With Spring Comes New Life at MCHT’s Aldermere Farm
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Updated February 9, 2019
Heidi Baker, the General Manager at Aldermere Farm, remembers a cold night in early January a couple years ago, when she 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—she'd been checking on the mamas-to-be every four hours during calving season.
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 that year, began to nurse.
During her tenure at Aldermere Farm Heidi has been present for hundreds of births on the farm and encountered just about every situation imaginable. But, still, 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 long-time member of MCHT’s 4-H Club, the Aldermere Achievers, has made an effort to come to as many as possible. “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.”
Ellie Pendleton became the Assistant Herd Manager at Aldermere Farm in 2018, and is now the one to check on pregnant mamas every four hours when they're close to giving birth. "There's an extensive amount of caffeine involved," says Ellie when asked about her exhaustion level this first winter as a full-time staff member. Luckily, Ellie, who spent eight formative years as a member of MCHT's 4-H Club, has the knowledge and experience to know when a birth is going well—and when it isn't. And Heidi is nearby to help.
In February, during an infamous cold spell, the second calf of the year arrived. Worried for the little guy quickly covered in icicles, Ellie asked Heidi to come with a hairdryer. Heidi brought along a hat and blanket as well, and the calf made it through the chilly night to enjoy climbing temperatures and sunshine in the morning.
In the weeks and months to come, more and more calves will arrive, and Heidi—and now Ellie—will be there to welcome them into the world. And so the tradition of winter and spring calvings continues at Aldermere Farm.
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 Carlos. “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.”
We hope to see you at MCHT’s Aldermere Farm preserve on May 4, 2019 for Calf Unveiling!