Tuesday, April 16, 2013

An Unexpected Calf

For the last four weeks, Phil has gone to check on the cows morning and night. Heifer Belle has looked like she is ready to birth, based on her bag and her backside, for the last three weeks, but, so far, nothing.

Our cow Babe did not do well last year. She needed help pushing out her calf (she had pushed out the nose, and was just so tired, we helped her get the calf out. Then Babe didn't produce much milk and her baby, whether through oxygen deprivation at birth or simply not ample nutrition, did not grow quickly. One day she had a horribly swollen face and quickly died, which we heard from a neighbor was what happened to his dog after the dog was bit by a copperhead. They're around, so that's what we consider to be the cause of death (it was certainly unlike any other death we've seen).

But Babe continued to struggle. As with Fern, another of our Vermont cows, I think she found it challenging to acclimate to the Virginia climate and, like Fern, lost much of her hair coat a few months after birthing. Fern now is a beautiful cow, but for several months there we weren't sure she'd make it.

Same with Babe. We figured we'd fatten her up and process her, but she refused to fatten by the fall, so we've fed her all winter.

On Saturday or Sunday, Phil checked on the cows and said, "I think Babe is going into labor. She's off by herself, and her tail is up like she's pooping, but nothing is coming out."

This seemed utterly ridiculous. We have had only two cows breed back in 14 months, and the idea that emaciated Babe would be the next one ... it was past belief. We assumed she was miscarrying.

But nothing happened that day or the next, and Babe seemed to be acting normally.

Yesterday morning, Phil fed the cows. Shadow follows Phil always, and while he was haying the cows, Shadow went off somewhere and came back carrying what looked like afterbirth. Shadow didn't communicate where she found this placenta-like object, but it appeared fresh. Phil tramped all over their paddock and found nothing. All cows accounted for.

It was a drizzly morning, so he came up to take care of paperwork, but his mind wouldn't focus. So he headed back down, and this time, he watched where Shadow went.

And there was a small calf, doing just fine. Babe hadn't bagged up at all, though, so Phil went to buy some powdered colostrum and milk replacer. This little bull calf will not be part of our permanent herd, and even if it was, better to feed some supplemental milk, even if disgusting, than let a baby starve.

I went down with Phil and we fed the baby. It took almost a full quart, gulping the liquid down. Then Phil pulled Babe, and I pushed her, and the calf followed shakily behind, all the way up next to the house. I could direct the calf with my knee, which was right about the level of his nose. Bitsy is about the same height and a bit wider.

Phil built the calf a little pen.

He fenced off a section of the rye grass that has shot up in the last week for Babe. We intended that rye to be a green manure crop. Perhaps it will be green manure and cow feed.

I was so tired from that walk up the hill that I took a 20 minute nap and then slept for twelve hours through the night.

Though we've tried to feed him several times, the baby takes only maybe a pint at a time since that first gulp fest. Babe lets him suckle, though I have felt her teats and there is almost nothing there.

So we have an extra calf we wouldn't have met had we brought Babe to the processors. Though we might need to figure out a way to keep her separate from the bulls, lest we perpetuate the cycle of breeding and birthing.

Our other animal news is that Mr. Bigglesworth the excellent mouser is gone. Whether coyote or dog or something else, we don't know what gets our cats on occasion, but his mouser skills are already missed. (Phil's mom came face to face with a mouse when she went to put something in the toaster oven!) He and Shadow were buddies. Biggles would sleep between Shadow's paws. That's what the blurry photo commemorates.

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