Saturday, March 6, 2010

All is well if it ends well I suppose

Since this is the first year we have calved heifers and each birth is different, I am doing my best to take mental notes of the lessons learned. Today I learned a lot of lessons. As a quick warning, everything does turn out OK but I do talk frankly about life on the ranch.

Heifer #52 calved today. Nathan was out this morning with the phone company and Lloyd had a meeting to attend. Just as Lloyd was getting ready to go one of the heifers started pacing around on the hill like she was getting ready to calve.

Within an hour or so I could see her water bag and walked her down the hill and in to a small pen area next to the barn. By this point she was no longer interested in having her calf but rather focused on how she could escape. I had hoped she would settle down and get back to business but that wasn't happening. The way the pen is set up, there is no real way to restrain her with one person unless she goes into the chute and calving in a chute can create a whole host of other problems. I'd been trying to call Nathan but cell service out here is more of a nice idea in theory than practice. I was just about to call the neighbor when I heard Nathan coming down the driveway.

We were able to restrain her head in the back part of the chute (aptly referred to as the 'butt gate') and the rest of her body is in the alleyway that leads to the chute. This way, Nathan can safely move behind her and reach in to grab the calf's legs and loop chains around the feet. When you pull a calf, you walk one leg forward, then the next and back and forth until the calf is out (if you pull on both legs the shoulders get stuck).

The calf was out up to the ribcage and with a few more pulls (as the cow pushes) it would be out but the cow's legs went out from under her and she laid down. Worried she would choke herself, I opened up the butt gate to free her head. No matter how hard we pulled, the calf would not budge and each time we did the calf's eyes would bulge and tongue would stick out.

What happened was that the way they cow was laying had twisted the calf so its' hips were stuck. The only way to free the calf from hip-lock (which could also be pinching the umbilical cord, cutting off blood supply) is to get the cow to reposition but since she is is this alleyway, she can't really move. Nathan will go pull the pins on the sidewall to give her more space and I will pull the calf.

As soon as the cow gets enough wiggle room to reposition, she stands up and lurches past Nathan. I'm trying my hardest to pull the calf out but she is too strong and I have to let the chains go. The cow bounds down the hill, calf hanging half out of her. In horror we watch as she plows through the electric fence, the wire wrapped around the calf and fiberglass poles rattling behind her. Shortly thereafter, the calf falls out and the cow keeps going.

Nathan and I check the calf and she seems to be OK considering everything she has been through: tugging on her legs, pulling hard while her hips won't move and her eyes bulge, bouncing along as mama thunders down the hill, zapped by the fence before it shorts out and finally being dropped and not breaking a neck. We rub down the calf vigorously to stimulate circulation and breathing, though she really seems fine and is just laying there blinking at us.

Nathan picks up the calf and brings her back to a small corral while the dog and I head up the hill to bring back the cow. Even though the calf seems fine at this point, it doesn't make much of a difference if the mother rejects her and with a first calf heifer who had a bit of a traumatic birth experience, that thought can loom in the back of your mind. However, the cow walks into the pen, see the calf and mothers up right away, licking her and mooing.

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Instances likes these can be so overwhelming and emotional I just want to break down and cry but there is no time. A quick hug from Nathan and then we are back to work. He gathers the posts and restrings the fence while I put the pins back along the panel hinges, normalize the calving area and try to find the calf chains that have fallen off in the muck somewhere. Life goes on and all is well if it ends well.

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