Speaning

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We pulled the calves from their mothers and sold them. I drew the wagon away from the gathering pens and the cattle began to moan in protest. Some of these calves are almost a year old, but they were still sucking at times; a fright would send them cartwheeling home to the safety of their mothers. But we stacked them in a tall aluminium trailer and tried not to look as they snuffed at the vents and sent streamers of drool down the walls.

Left to their own devices, cattle fold themselves into a complex herd. Generations pile up in layers and the beasts build a sense of understanding. But my calves are sold, and the bonds are broken in a never-ending loop. They’ve gone to a man beyond Dumfries who’ll feed them on for another two years; it’s not a bad move for them, and it’s a relief for me as I wring my hands and hope for more grass. Still, it’s a lasting discomfort, and something like a betrayal of animals who felt like they knew me. I know I’m being soft, but I’m also being honest.

We have an old word for this kind of separation in Galloway. We call it speaning, and it prickles at me like an old pain. But now there are new calves coming and the cycle begins again.

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