showers snow storms bring May flowers April/May calves!
The last month we have been on pins and needles, excited and nervous for the start of our first ever calving season. We were so relieved when the snow finally melted away and we started to have several dry, sunny days in a row. We figured it was the perfect time for a calf to be born, right? It seemed that all of our careful planning with our breeding season was panning out.
Apparently, though, Mother Nature still had a few surprises up her sleeve.
We woke up the morning of Thursday, April 24th and were immediately thrown back into winter. It was such a shock to see the wintery scene unfolding out the window. Snow, sleet, rain, cold temperatures…you name it, we had it that day.
Perfect day for a calf to be born, right?! And, especially for greenhorns like us trying to calve with limited indoor facilities.
First-calf heifer UL220 did not care not that the weather and ground conditions were horrible for calving. She was having her calf, warm or cold, snow or sun…weather be darned. This calf was coming.
So, we pulled our winter gear back out (bye-bye sandals:)) and dove headfirst into what would become (for us) an absolute nightmare situation. Looking back on it, we realize that it could have been much, much worse. But, for us, it was pretty rough. All of those “what ifs” and “oh, that won’t happen to us”, came thundering down on us as we fought a very mental, emotional and physical battle to save this heifer and her calf’s lives.
Let me start at the beginning…….
Thursday, April 24, 2014
In the recent weeks, we had started checking the herd every couple of hours for signs of labor. At around 1:15pm in the afternoon, I (Sara) was checking the herd when I noticed that one of the heifers had isolated herself from the herd. We have some heifers that are a little anti-social normally but this was definitely not one of those heifers. This was actually our friendliest and most social heifer. She is also our youngest (will be 2 in June). She is the only one that we can actually rub/touch. I walked over to her and immediately got the “stay away from me” vibe from her. Very unusual behavior for her. Later on, Jeremiah told me that she would not let him pet her that morning.
I also noticed that her tail was bent to the side. She was not chewing cud or eating. She was simply standing in some bushes, away from the herd, with her tail bent to the side and in what I would call a very bad mood.
I called Jeremiah at work and filled him in on what I was seeing. He told me to keep an eye on her and to keep him updated. I came back to the house and within 30 minutes, I put my muck boots back on and practically sprinted back to the pasture. I just knew that calf was coming. Too many signs and the bent tail was a dead giveaway (I can say that confidently now that we have seven calves on the ground).
As I approached the pasture, I could see the heifer was in the same location but laying down on her side. I knew it was game on at that point. My heart was racing and I was almost delirious with what to do. I remember running around the hay bale area, trying to collect dry hay to put around her. I was so excited and very naive for I thought I was going to witness an easy, natural birth.
The heifer was definitely having contractions. Her whole whole body lifted off the ground with the effort. She alternated between laying down and standing up, with her tail lifted straight up in the air. During one of her sessions laying down, she pooped and peed. There is only going to be probably two times in a cows life when she pees laying down. One, she is extremely ill and/or dying and two, she is having a calf! At that point, Jer decided to come home and we switched places for a bit. I came back to the house to take care of things and Jer took up the watch.
I got a phone call at 2:45pm that she had passed her water bag. There was definitely no turning back now. I rushed back to the pasture and joined Jer.
Shortly after she passed the water bag, we could see two hooves poking out.
The contractions were literally rocking her body. For about 2 1/2 hours, we watched her (from a safe distance) as she continued to alternate between laying down and standing up with hard contractions. From our research and advice from other people, first-calf heifers can labor for 1-3 hours.
This was our first experience and there is a very fine balance between letting nature take its course and us (humans) intercepting. We did not want to assist too soon and risk causing health risks to both the calf and the mother. Also, we really did not want to be the reason for any bonding issues for the calf and mother.
As more time passed, it became evident that UL220 was slowly starting to give up. She simply could not push the head out and she had no more to give. She was done. We had to step in at this point. We risked losing both the mother and the calf if we didn’t intervene. UL 220 is our youngest heifer and small for her age. She isn’t even two years old yet! (in June).
We had been in phone contact on and off during the labor with our good friend and mentor, Gene. Since this was our first calving experience and it was looking like we were going to have to pull this calf, Gene wanted to come up and provide physical and mental support!
Within 5 minutes of Gene arriving, him and Jer pulled the calf.
They said that they barely had to tug on the chains and…..
the calf slipped right out!
I watched the entire process and documented it with the above pictures. It was completely surreal. We were all so excited and relieved that the calf was out.
The tough times, though, were only starting.