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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Sarah Laughton

Country diary: Letting go of a cow we hold dear

Sarah's cattle in the river meadow.
‘The cattle are looking at their most bucolic, blue sky unfurled overhead, a constellation of dandelions at their feet.’ Photograph: Sarah Laughton

I decided this morning that I couldn’t wait any longer and I whistled the cattle through to the river meadow. Grass, which has been growing and green all winter, is now shin high in places, but there are areas of wet where heavy trampling would disproportionately damage the soil structure.

April did what April does, namely cruel winds and sharp showers, perpetuating a more or less eight-month long mono-season – or perhaps that should be monsoon. Since finishing the last of my hay, I’ve had to balance protecting sodden ground from heavy trampling with losing the benefit of spring grazing. The cattle are looking at their most bucolic, blue sky unfurled overhead, a constellation of dandelions at their feet. Already they are shedding their winter coats, but, almost in contradiction, they continue to wear muddy stockings up to their hocks.

I squelch over to the drystone wall where I keep a spray bottle of antiseptic wash and a pair of nitrile gloves. One of the cows newly calved presented with a vaginal prolapse two weeks ago. I knew at once from her abnormal tail extension what to expect, but it’s always arresting to find a bloody protrusion of flesh. The procedure to rectify it is straightforward – inject a relaxant epidural into the top of the tail, push the mass back in, then stitch up the vulva to hold it in place. But pressure on the stitches has been causing some localised infection, so I’m keeping them cleansed.

She seems to enjoy it, standing appreciatively still, but she’s also at ease being handled. Her life story is eventful. Conceived by artificial insemination, she was born in 2021, our first calf as we began rebuilding from a TB breakdown, but her mother abandoned her so it fell to me to rear her. Last summer, she ran with the bull and was a notable positive in a disappointingly fallow year. She followed this with a textbook calving and exemplary maternalism, but the prolapse consigns her, as the vet put it bluntly, to being a “cull cow”.

It occurs to me as I finish washing her that she embodies what it means to keep lifestock – the highs and lows, the gains and the losses, life and death. I give her a scratch on her rump and let her go.

• Country diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

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