The chaotic week kicked off on a Sunday in September with a cow in one of the rented pastures birthing a stillborn calf. Bill checked #20 (grandmother to Gussie from my post of our first blessed event of the season) about mid-day and found her alone in a far corner of the pasture—her chosen labor and delivery site. Her previous calving experiences were normal so he wasn't concerned. We checked again in the evening. She’d delivered her calf, but it was dead, the apparent result of some complication causing an extended delivery time, stressing the calf. The poor cow didn't realize he baby was dead and was licking and trying to nudge it to its feet. Watching a cow "mother" a dead calf always rips my heart out!
On the way home, I asked Bill if he would try to find a newborn Holstein bull calf at a dairy to attempt an adoption. The closest dairies he knew of in our area were no longer operational but he had heard about one near Ottawa, about an hour away. He called the dairyman and, yes, he could sell Bill a two-day old bull. The next morning, Bill headed to Ottawa and brought home the prospective adoptee.
If you haven’t read my book and don’t have any cow/calf operation experience, this may get a little gross for you.
Bill stopped briefly at home on his way to the pasture to get his deer skinning knife and some nylon baling twine. At the pasture, he skinned the hide off the dead calf, poked two holes at each end of the hide, draped the hide over the Holstein’s back, tied it on with the nylon twine, then wiped afterbirth on the hide. The mostly white-with-a-few-black-spots Holstein calf now sported a slimy black overcoat.
The theory behind this process is the cow will smell the scent of her dead calf on the adoptee and accept it as hers. Bill pushed the calf over to #20. She sniffed it and walked away. He pushed it toward her again and she repeated the rejection. But the calf trotted after her, so Bill left them together to have some quiet time to bond.
He went back to the pasture a couple of hours later to see how the adoption was progressing. It wasn't. Another cow, #21, and her calf wandered to the back to check on the situation and the adoptee was hanging out with them.
In the evening, we both went back to the pasture to look for the adoptee. If #20 wouldn't take it, we needed to get it home and give it milk replacer or it would dehydrate and become weak. The calf had returned to the area but the cow was still rejecting it. While Bill was cutting the hide off and loading the calf, I observed #20 walk away from us. What appeared to be afterbirth still hung from her vaginal opening. Earlier, Bill had attempted to grab and pull it out, but it broke off. I thought it odd she hadn't expelled yet. Then I noticed her girth and the way she walked. She was still almost as large as before she birthed the stillborn calf, and her walk was more of a waddle. I brought all this to Bill’s attention and he peered closely at her. I speculated, “Do you suppose she was carrying twins and one of them is still in there?”
“That explains why she hasn't cleaned yet. What’s hanging out isn't afterbirth, it’s pre-birth and she’s trying to have another calf,” was Bill’s analysis. “No wonder she wouldn't take the Holstein! Mother Nature told her she still had another calf to deliver.”
By then, it was almost dark, meaning by the time we went home and Bill hooked up the stock trailer to the truck and returned to get the cow, it would be really dark. Anyway, Bill would have to herd the cow across the pasture to a catch pen to load her into the trailer. After all she’d been through in the last 24 hours, chances of this all happening were slimmer than none. Bill said there was nothing we could do; he would come back the next morning to see whether just the calf was dead or if we had also lost the cow. So we took our little rejected adoptee and went home to put groceries in his rumen.
Side note: Bill promoted me to Certified Bovine Midwife Assistant II for my observation about #20 actually carrying twins.
Bill’s first thought was to take the Holstein to a livestock sale and attempt to recoup his investment. Then he decided to keep it for about a week, just in case another unfortunate situation occurred and we needed an adoptee. We put the calf in the barn and wearily dragged ourselves to the house. I commented that with all the Holstein had been through since morning, he sure was a trooper. Bill agreed and we named him “Trooper.”
The next morning, Bill went back to the pasture to check on the birth of the second twin, hoping he wouldn't have to load #20 and bring her home to pull a presumably dead calf. #20 delivered the second twin and it was dead, kind of a mixed relief. Since we now have no income-producing product from this cow, she will be sold later this fall.