One of his earliest experiences with calving was watching his mom and dad working to save a calf that was being delivered backwards on their farm close to Manitou, Man.
“It didn’t bother him at all. He just sat there and he knew Mom and Dad were OK and that was fine,” says John’s mom, Catherine Jordan. As she suctioned the calf’s airways and dried him off, her son sat safely in his baby carrier in an enclosed area beside the corral.
Now that John is 2-1/2, he is a little more mobile, so Catherine and husband, Don have had to put a lot of planning and work into changing the layout of the farmyard, especially the corral and pens, to give their son space to roam and play safely, without inadvertently getting into harm’s way.
Suddenly tasks like calving, tagging, sorting and shipping cows are not as easy as they used to be. With none of their parents living close by, the Jordans are often on their own when it comes to handling the situations that, as every livestock producer knows, can crop up any time of the day or night.
“It was different when we could just go outside at a moment’s notice,” says Don. “It’s not quite so easy now for both of us to respond quickly, as we have John to think about. Although it’s a small yard and I can usually handle most things myself, there are times when it really helps to have another pair of hands.”
Although their son is still at an age where he is never outside alone, they are trying to prepare for the days when he will be older and more independent. Part of the process is educational; they are carefully trying to instil in him a healthy amount of caution and respect for the cows, whilst not making him fearful of them.
But it has also meant some homemade modifications to the physical layout of the corral and pens, to make it safer for both their son, and themselves, which is just as important when a parent may be the only one outside with a wholly dependent child.
Don has set up a system of fixed and removable panels that can be rearranged to suit the tasks that they are performing, whether assisting a cow to calve, tagging or sorting animals. They have built their own, custom-designed crowding tub and an enclosed area beside it which can be completely separated from any areas where the cattle are contained, and where their son can safely stay and still be right next to where Mom and Dad are. “It gives him a view of the whole area where we are going to be tagging or whatever,” says Catherine. “He’ll be safe from the cattle in there and he can’t get out, but he can still see us.”
Don has reinforced the corral fences by driving railway ties into the ground and attaching metal, mesh panels that prevent the cows from pushing their heads through or between the fence posts. These not only provide good separation, (and again keep the little one safe from overly inquisitive cows), but also serve to strengthen the whole fence system.
A separate maternity pen, which is also portable, has been set up and is adjacent to the area where John plays nonchalantly with his toy tractors, so that his parents can keep a close eye whilst working more intensely with any animals in distress.
Catherine feels that being around the cows at such an early stage has given John an appreciation of them that will hopefully help to keep him safe in the future. “He’s very calm around the cows, he’s very good, he stays where you tell him, he doesn’t say anything to spook the cattle or cry or anything like that,” she says, although she admits that they will have to watch very carefully that his familiarity with them doesn’t one day turn into complacency.
The other aspect is planning and preparation. Having the tools they need, and keeping everything at hand and ready to go when it’s needed, is going to be more crucial from now on, says Catherine. “We bought a calf puller, and have set up the maternity pen,” says Catherine. “And we are making sure all our supplies are at hand. I always have a disinfectant pail ready and things like the calving gloves and towels and so on.”
The couple is also looking at purchasing two-way walkie-talkies so that they can communicate when only one can be outside at a time.
Interestingly, being aware of the dangers and safety concerns for their son around the cattle has made both Don and Catherine more aware of farm safety in general and the changes they have implemented have made their jobs safer and easier too. Even their veterinarian has been impressed by the measures they have taken to safely segregate and restrain their animals in preparation for him to come and treat them.
John was very keen to show off his cows when I visited to do this story, and also his outdoor playpen, which he insisted his parents and I share with him for a while. With a new little brother or sister due to arrive this spring, methinks John will be a very responsible big brother, whilst the ingenuity of his parents will keep them both safe from all the other new arrivals on the farm.