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Hameau Farm

Illustration: Hameau FarmBy Hayden Kiessling
Pound Ridge, N.Y.

I was sitting on the floor of a stall in a barn tucked away on one hundred acres of land in central Pennsylvania. Lying next to me was a very pregnant Ayrshire cow weighing well over 1,000 pounds. Petoria didn't scare me. I was used to being in such close proximity to her. She was my favorite cow at Hameau Farm. My third year there as a camper, I had shown Petoria in the farm show at the end of the session. Now she was quite a bit bigger, and very frightened. It was her first calf, and she didn't really understand what was about to happen.

Thirty curious girls surrounded the calm haven that I had created in the stall for Petoria. The campers watched through the bars of the stall, waiting quietly and patiently for something to happen. I thought back to five years before, when I had first seen a calf being born. The mother was out in the pasture, so my friends and I watched in awe and anticipation as the massive creature lay down on her side and started pushing. A new calf was always an exciting change at the farm. Chores were put on hold as we wondered at the slimy, skinny animal trying to take its first steps.

The day Petoria went into labor, the girls were supposed to go to the state park for a barbeque and a swim, but they chose unanimously to stay and watch Petoria bring her first baby into the world. These are the kinds of girls that come to Hameau Farm: inquisitive, hardworking, independent girls who would rather spend two weeks feeding a baby goat with a bottle than splashing around in a town pool with their friends or playing soccer for their travel team. Even though my days as a camper ended long ago, I still consider myself a Hameau Farm girl, and this was my ­seventh summer.

For the moment my place was in the stall, sitting in the hay with Petoria. She let out a soft moo, and I stroked her soft brown-spotted coat. She was ready. I moved aside so that she could lie on her side, first coaxing her to the center of the stall so that the campers would get a good view. She started pushing. A series of hushed whispers rippled through the line of young girls. I loved that they were so excited. These were a bunch of city girls who had been dropped off almost a week ago, not knowing what to expect, but willing to try something new. I thought back to my first week at camp, and how I hadn't even known how to wash my own dishes. When it was my chore group's turn in the kitchen after dinner, I not only learned how to scrub, rinse and sanitize, but by the end of the night, I learned how to make the perfect beard out of soap bubbles, and I picked up some great dance moves to Britney Spears songs. Everything was an adventure at camp, and today was proving to be no exception.

Petoria was breathing harder. I could see the feet starting to emerge. I knew that the front hooves would come out first and the calf would literally dive out of its mother. This calf had some of the biggest feet I had ever seen, and Petoria had clearly noticed as well. As pushing got harder, Petoria became more vocal, and then she stopped. She was out of energy, but she needed to push or the calf ­wouldn't survive. I tried to feed her grain and give her water, but Petoria would have none of it. She was exhausted.

After deferring to the camp director, I had to gather up twine from the bales of hay around the barn, tie them together, and tie the long string around the calf's exposed hooves. It was my turn to do the work. I pulled on the twine, but couldn't get a good grip on it. My fellow counselor and I tied our end of the rope around a pitchfork. That provided us with at least a little leverage. Three of us pulled on that handle for what seemed like an hour. By then there was no point in trying to keep the campers quiet and relaxed. They were all concerned, shouting words of encouragement to Petoria and clapping and cheering whenever a little more of the calf emerged.

It is a Hameau Farm custom to name a new baby animal something starting with the first letter of its mother's name, so when that little bull calf finally came out of Petoria, the campers voted, and we named him Presley, after The King. He was the center of attention for days after, but as I made my way down to the farmhouse to shower away the slime, dirt, and sawdust, I knew that he was just one of the many adventures that each one of those campers would have at Hameau Farm.
 

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