By AMANDA BOWES PHOTO: JESS KIRKLAND
Blind at birth, Ray Charles didn’t stand much chance of survival.
Ray, one of the thousand or so Friesian bull calves to be reared on a Hawarden farm last season, had a change of luck when calf rearer Jess Kirkland took pity on him and brought him home.
Today, he has grown into a hefty steer and has two lambs – Merry and Bro – to keep him company. They have become the equivalent of guide dogs for Ray Charles.
“It was obvious when he came in he couldn’t see, so he was put in a pen on his own so he could feed. The vet gave him strong antibiotics, but when he didn’t respond, it was either put down or rescue. I chose rescue,” Jess says.
“We called him Ray Charles because he moves his head around like the blind singer, Ray Charles. Also, my boss is called Charles.”
Merry was another rescue – a Dorper cross sheep. She wasn’t going anywhere in life either, with crooked legs. Bro, a Wiltshire cross, was merely an orphan and didn’t have any disabilities.
Ray and Bro have become firm friends and play tag, with the blind Ray tossing Bro around. Where the lambs go, Ray Charles senses and follows.
“Ray is pretty good around his paddock now.
“But he still walks into things like the gate. He has amazing hearing and will lift his head if a packet of biscuits is opened,” Jess says.
On the odd occasion, the three animals have got out, only to be found chilling out under a neighbour’s Magnolia tree.
Jess also rescued a wild boar piglet, which became very tame, but when he was about seven months old he mysteriously disappeared.
“I think someone would have noticed a wild boar running around Hawarden if he had escaped, so we assume he must have been pinched.”
For solo mum Jess, becoming a farm worker last year has been one of the best things she has ever done.
Spending 14 years in the hospitality industry working as a chef, rearing calves for a living was not on her radar.
After settling in Hawarden to be near family and give her children a stable life, she was offered the calf-rearing job.
It wasn’t something she had ever done, but she took to the job with gusto.
Calf-rearing led to full-time work on the farm, which Jess says she loves.
“It’s a great lifestyle and I have got very fit. I have a really nice boss and the job works in with the kids going to preschool and school. I went from chefing and cooking beef to now raising it.”
Ray, Merry and Bro enjoy an eclectic diet. Pasture and hay is supplemented with kale, veges, walnuts and other bits and pieces from the garden.
“You just can’t beat the love of animals. When people walk past and stop to talk to Ray and his friends, I enjoy going out and telling them the story of the blind calf.”