Each day and night we’ve walked the shed
checking for evidence of fever, a dullness
among the young and vulnerable
or a cough we’ve witnessed in the past
spreading like a slow moving wave
from pen to pen, leaving small corpses
as crumpled sacks in its wake.
Painful lessons have been learned
so old herdsman you do not let me forget
that prevention is key for survival
so the timing and quality of colostrum
is vital; castration and disbudding
should be carried out away from weaning.
Any additional stresses reduce immunity
so limit transport in the first few weeks.
Avoid overcrowding – early separation
and isolation can save lives you remind me
as earlier, sweat drenched, you wrestled a calf.
Be wary of underlying conditions like scour.
Shelter the future herd from cold and wet.
Clean bedding – do not skimp on straw.
Fresh air at calf level but not a draught.
Avoid extremes – it is all about looking
for a perfect balance, one you tell me
that has been lost from this world.
Everything is connected – pigs, civets,
camels, bats. Again your hoarse bark
interrupts your flow as you nod to the valley
where a city inherits the silence of the hill.
Don’t ignore the small signs, before the big.
We’ve stretched and torn mother nature.
How often have you told me all of this
your teaching almost inbred, a hefting.
Today I pay more attention to you, your breath.
Jim Carruth is the current Poet Laureate of Glasgow. He is also one of the founders and current chair of St Mungo’s Mirrorball, a network of Glasgow-based poets, and is the artistic adviser for StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival. His work has previously been shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Prize and the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize. His most recent collection Bale Fire came out in 2019.