Yes, we’re on the downhill side of 2018 fall calving which started August 21st. A week passed before another calf was born, but then the pace picked up during Labor Day weekend with three to five births per day for almost two weeks. And yes, we’ve had a little drama and adventure.
The drama started when Cow #301 birthed a calf but decided she liked Cow #66’s three-day-old calf better and tried to claim it. #301 isn’t a rookie; she’s had several calves so don’t know why she attempted the hostile take-over. Some quality bonding time in a corral pen quickly straightened out that situation. #301 is now a model mom—to her own calf!
The drama continued when First-Calf Heifer #166, Cow #66’s calf from two years ago, birthed a stillborn one night. Bill found FCH #166 fussing over the dead calf, trying to get it up for breakfast. Bill usually doesn’t attempt an adoption with a new mom but decided if #166 wanted a calf that badly, he’d try it. (In cattlemen-ese, the correct term is “grafting,” but you know how I like to personify these events!)
Bill bought a five-day-old Holstein bull calf from a dairy 20 minutes away. He skinned the pelt off the dead calf, punched a couple of holes in either end to lace baling twine through, tied it on the adoptee and smeared the pelt with afterbirth to make it smell like the dead calf. Then he pushed it into the pen with #166 and we cleared out to give them time to get acquainted. He went back a half-hour later to check on progress and there was plenty! The calf was having a late lunch and mama was licking it. We’ve done several of these adoptions but this one was accomplished in record time!
Cricket and I headed out on our evening walk. As we left the house, I looked out at the pasture nearest the house where we have the first-calf heifers. Most of them were close, directly east of the house. But I thought I could see one lying down near the north fence. I grabbed the binoculars for a closer look and confirmed pending birth. Remembering to grab my cell—usually don’t take it on my walks—we walked the quarter mile to the north end. I didn’t want to spook the heifer, who was in hard labor, and cause undue stress so I circled around to her rear to see if there any progress. I saw what appeared to be one hoof protruding, still encased in the amniotic sac, and couldn’t determine if the hoof was attached to a front or back leg. In either case, we had a problem: If only one front hoof appears, the other one is bent back and has to be repositioned forward, then the calf can be pulled out with a good chance for a live birth, depending on how much time has elapsed. If only one back hoof appears, the unborn calf is in breech, or backwards, position. The leg still has to be repositioned but chances of a live birth aren’t good.
Bill was at the ranch where our cow/calf pairs are wintered. We rent pasture during the grazing season and the rancher supervises the calving of 25 cows. Bill makes a couple of trips there each week, more if necessary, to check on progress and resupply mineral tubs. He didn’t answer the first time I called, but did about 15 minutes later. He was 20 minutes out and would step on it—for him, three miles above the speed limit! Meanwhile, I went to the barn, opened appropriate gates and the squeeze chute to prepare for the ordeal to come.
Bill arrived home and was able to herd FCH #460 to the corral. This part can be difficult with a stressed-out seasoned veteran cow, let alone a heifer that doesn’t know for sure what’s happening! He secured #460 in the chute and gathered together his bovine obstetric equipment. He gloved up with an OB sleeve and extended his arm into the vagina to assess the situation. Yes, one front leg was bent backwards but the calf was still alive. To reposition the leg forward requires pushing the calf back into the uterus, while the cow is trying to push it out! After several minutes, everything was in position and Bill hooked up the pulling equipment: OB strap wrapped around the hooves and connected to a chain which is connected to a fence stretcher. There is bovine OB equipment designed to pull calves, but Bill prefers to use his fence stretcher which has a ratchet to make pulling easier.
Bill’s interior examination had also revealed that the calf was large which made the pulling process very difficult. After several unsuccessful attempts, we called a neighbor for help. He arrived with his own pulling equipment, made a few adjustments and they both pulled. Still couldn’t get the shoulders through the opening. The neighbor asked about additional equipment, sending Bill and I to the barn to find it. I heard him shout and we both raced back to the chute. The calf, a big bull, was out and on the ground. He was alive, but breathing was shallow and raspy due to fluid taken into his lungs during the prolonged delivery.
While our attention was focused on the calf, the exhausted mom squatted, then laid down in the chute, creating a possible disaster. If a cow lies down immediately after delivery, a prolapsed uterus can occur. In a bovine prolapse, either the uterus or the vagina is expelled from the body. It’s a fixable condition, but requires a vet to push the organ back into the cow, then stitch up the opening. In my book, I described it as throwing out the baby with the bath water, then tossing the tub out after it!
Bill and the neighbor pushed and prodded to get her on her feet and out of the chute. A light buzz with the Hotshot, which we only use under extreme circumstances like this one, got her up and moving. Bill herded her toward the calf.
After the exhausting event, Bill knew the calf wouldn’t be able to get up and nurse. He mixed up a packet of just-add-water colostrum substitute and tube-fed the calf. When he finished, the cow was licking the calf, a good sign, so he left them for the night.
We had a celebratory happy hour at 11:30 and ate supper at midnight!
Due to the extremely stressful labor and delivery, FCH #460’s recovery has been slow and required administration of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medications. Five days later, she was feeling better and her calf was doing great!