Country diary: Life on the farm is pregnantly poised | Sarah Laughton

The cows on the farm.

Country diary: Life on the farm is pregnantly poised

Long Dean, Cotswolds: The sows are weeks from farrowing, last year’s calves have been weaned ahead of the new births – and we’re anxiously waiting for rain

I watched a barn owl hunting this morning. It flew low over the tussocky grass beside the river upstream from us, tilting and turning, close enough that I could see its buff and white softness. I crouched, mesmerised, the dogs gathered beside me, until they grew restless and whimpered to get on.

By contrast, everything else is waiting quietly. The sow, a couple of weeks from farrowing, moves ponderously. The cows, close to their calving, seem almost passive. They display all the patience attributed to their breed, browsing and cudding and dozing. Life on the farm is pregnantly poised.

One of the yearlings on the farm, wearing an anti-suckling plate to help wean it from its mother.

In preparation, I dig out the ropes and other kit I might need for calving, and remember last year. Those calves, now yearlings, have been weaned but still wear their anti-suckling plates: lightweight discs that clip on to the nasal septum. These are fitted to prevent feeding, which in turn allows the cows to “dry up” and produce fresh colostrum for the new calf.

They’re clever, benign things – when the calves’ heads are down, the discs swing outwards, allowing them to eat and drink, but when they raise their muzzles to suckle the disc acts as a barrier to the teats. I’ll remove them next week when we have them in for TB testing. Meantime, I don’t enjoy how they look, but it’s preferable to weaning by separating the calves from their mums. I take solace that they are still benefiting from maternal attention; I regularly find them with hair neatly licked.

Their first experience of winter has been a strange one: unrelenting wet, then unprecedented cold, followed by weeks of dry weather. Officially we are now recovering from drought, but we still need significant rain to bring on grass-growth.

Spring, like the dawn, is inching forward. I no longer need a torch when I set out in the morning, accompanied by birdsong. Last week I stumbled across a muntjac fawn in the wood, white speckles on its coat like a wild boar piglet, distinctively pert, upturned tail. And I like to think the flowering lesser celandine does indeed offer hope of joys to come.