06 May 2017
On a cold night in early January, Heidi Baker, Aldermere Farm’s Herd Manager, put her young daughters to bed around 7:30, bundled up, and ventured out to the barn to check on the cows before turning in. Heidi’s eyes ached with exhaustion—in calving season, she checks on the mamas-to-be every four hours, and a couple of nights earlier, a calf had been born in the wee hours.
That night Heidi found another cow stomping and lifting her tail and estimated the birth was still an hour away. But when she returned to the birthing pen a half hour later, the calf had arrived. “The baby girl was just 42 pounds—most are around 70—and the mama didn’t realize she’d already given birth,” says Heidi. She helped mother find child and the small-but-mighty calf, Eloise, the first born in the New Year, began to nurse.
This is about as well as a calving can go. Heidi has been present for hundreds of births on the farm and has encountered just about every situation imaginable, but calvings never fail to fill her with a sense of wonder at the miracle and frailty of life. Since Aldermere Farm became a Maine Coast Heritage Trust preserve in 1999, 4-H club members, Farm Hands, and other young people in the midcoast have been invited into this experience.
Pearl Benjamin, a member of MCHT’s 4-H Club, the Aldermere Achievers, has come to nearly every calving over the past two years.
“Heidi always makes the right call when it comes to a tricky birth,” says Pearl, “whether that is pulling the calf, calling the vet, or maneuvering a twisted calf into the right position. She has saved too many calf lives to count, and I can tell that every birth touches her.”
Decades ago, when the farm belonged to Albert Chatfield Jr., neighbors kept an eye out for the spring day he released the cows and baby Belties into the pastures to graze. When Maine Coast Heritage Trust conserved Aldermere Farm and began to open it up to the community, “Calf Unveiling Day” became a bona fide community event and local rite of spring. This year, as in years past, hundreds will come to meet the newest Aldermere Belties, including sweet little Eloise. “I love Calf Unveiling because it’s a celebration of life and spring,” says Heidi. “Plus it just makes people so happy. It’s nice to be a part of that.”