Seems like we've had enough problems with cows over the past three years to make me give up. Some problems were due to my own inattention to detail; some to ignorance or even lack of funds. The problems still go on, as seen Friday when Penny showed signs that she was getting ready to calve. We had done the proper things this time: She was bred to an Angus bull that, according to his owner, sired calves with a low birth weight. We didn't head off to another state knowing she was soon to have a calf, as we did last year in the case of Crystal. I was stoked and ready!
Friday evening Penny got down to business, laying down and pushing for all she was worth. I was on hand, ready for anything... I thought. She pushed and pushed, resting between contractions. At midnight there was still no sign of a calf, so I went to bed. Every couple of hours when my bladder woke me up, I went out with the flashlight to check.
At six A.M. I woke up, went running out, and saw a calf's foot... FINALLY! As soon as I saw that hoof, I knew it was a bull calf, and not a tiny one, either. Once a foot is out, that gives something to grab hold of and pull on every time the cow has a contraction, so I got a towel to wrap around the foot so the slick birth fluids wouldn't keep me from getting a good hold. Strange thing was, I only saw one foot. I stuck my hand inside and felt for another foot, but could only feel the calf's nose.
I ran to the house and woke Cliff up, telling him I thought perhaps one of the calf's feet was bent at the knee. He doesn't wake up fast or easy, but he did his best. He came out, felt around, pulled on the one foot a bit. "Should I call the vet?" I asked.
"That's up to you," he said. He knows that if he tells me not to call the vet and the calf dies, he is the villain. Once the ball was in my court, I ran inside and looked up the number of the nearest vet, ten miles away. I figured the heck with choosing a favorite out of four large-animal veteranarians that are in a twenty-five-mile radius, as I often do. I wanted somebody who could get here quick. A very sleepy-sounding Dr. Scott answered the phone and I told him what we thought was the problem. "Have you tried to get the foot out?" he asked, somewhat testily. Hey, I wouldn't be the happiest person in the world if I'd been awakened at 6 A.M. from a sound sleep either.
"OK, I'll be out."
I went back out. Cliff had gotten a rope around the calf's one leg and was pulling, and I pulled with him, and finally the other foot appeared. It was there all the time. However, it was too late for the bull calf. He was already dead. I ran back to call the vet and tell him to forget it. No answer, but I left a message. Great. Not only did we lose the calf, but we will have a huge farm visit bill to pay. But about five minutes later the good doctor returned my call. His son had gotten my message on the home phone and relayed it to him. I thanked him for being willing to come and assist us and went back outside.
Penny licked her calf and moo'd to it as cows do, but not for long. First-calf heifers don't always know what motherhood is all about, and she soon gave up the effort to revive the baby.
By the way, the foot was in the proper position after all. It was just so big...
Our next task was to find a couple of calves to take all the milk Penny will be giving. Our hopes were that she would accept a calf or two as her own. We called the Holstein dairy at Higginsville, but they didn't happen to have any new calves. I called my other suppliers at Holden, figuring they were done with calves for this year, but thank God they had a couple of nice Jersey bull calves.
The cow wants nothing to do with them, so it will be another case of securing the cow in the stanchion, putting the kicker on her, and forcing her to let the calves nurse. Whatever. It's been working with Grace, so I hope it will work for Penny.
What did I learn? Don't wait so long to call the vet if a cow, especially a heifer, is taking too long to have her calf.
When some seemingly tragic episode would happen during my childhood and I would be bawling my eyes out, Mother would say, "Well, it isn't a human life."
That was of little comfort to a child whose cat hadn't showed up at home for days, but now it makes sense to me. I think of all my friends who have serious health problems right now and realize that the death of a bull calf is of little consequence.
With so many things going wrong with the few cows I own, you might wonder why I don't just give up. Obviously I'm not making any money at it, when I'm losing an animal as often as I have lately (thank goodness we were able to eat a couple of our losses, literally). Well, if you came to visit and sat with me and watched a couple of calves frolicking, bucking, and kicking their back feet in the air after they've got a belly full of milk, you would see why I do it. I love the calves. I like seeing them healthy and growing, knowing I had a small hand in it. They make me happy. I do it for the calves, and they keep me going.