New mothers post a birth story after they have a baby... do I get to post the birth story of my calf? I think it's only fair!
We knew Mae cow was due sometime between the middle of July and the middle of August. We knew this because she was pastured with a bull nine months ago for about a month. But we never saw "the deed" occur, so it was a guessing game that involved a lot of staring at her backside for the past few weeks and trying to guess how close she was to birthing.
The are signs you can look for. You can watch the "pin bones" which are the pelvic bones. They begin to protrude more when the cow is nearing calving time as the ligaments soften. You can watch the vulva, which becomes looser and sometimes has mucous hanging from it. You can watch her udder, which will begin to develop and fill with colostrum (the first milk the calf will drink.) These are things you look at while trying to make some kind of educated guess as to when the calf will be born. And the fact of the matter is, no matter how many signs you watch for or see, it's going to be a mystery. Some of those things will happen, some won't, and some you won't see until after the calf is on the ground. There were a few times we thought she was really close and got up every few hours in the night to check on her. The result was no calf and a distinct lack of sleep.
Yesterday morning, as I do every morning, I checked on the cows in the pasture by looking through binoculars while I had my morning coffee. I noticed Mae was walking around with her tail held out, much like she had to go poo, but without the poo. That was all the sign I needed to know something was up. I chugged the coffee and went out to find long strings of mucous hanging from her back end. I milked Clara Belle as quickly as I could, then locked Mae into the stall on a bed of fresh straw. Then I called a neighbor as my on-call help and watched for a bit.
Side note: earlier this month, Clara Belle had her calf. She'd been bred too early (the neighbor bull tore down the fence to get to her) and the calf died in the birthing process. It had to be pulled out, something I never would have had the strength to do alone. Luckily, Andrew was here and managed, though it wasn't easy and Clara had a hard time walking for several days. I decided having a neighbor with more strength and experience close at hand would make me feel better after such a rough birth experience. Mae was (intentionally) bred to the same big Angus bull.
As I watched, she pushed. I saw hooves. Calves (and most baby animals) are born in a sort of diving position, their nose right on top of two hooves coming straight out. What I saw were two hooves and an ear, and they were coming sideways out of Mae. Sideways had the potential to be bad. I called the neighbors and asked them to go ahead and come up. I probably could have waited, but I was jittery after Clara's experience and decided I'd rather just not be facing it alone. She pushed a few times, with no progress. Then she stood up again. She paced, arched her back, and pawed the floor during a contraction. Instead of coming further out, the calf went back inside. This is normal, and didn't worry me too much. Then she laid back down, and I saw hooves again... and this time, they were straight and headed out the right direction. Shortly after that, I saw an itty bitty little calf nose. The neighbors arrived about that time. A few more pushes, and a big, healthy heifer calf was born.
Mae's an amazing mama. She jumped right up, started talking to it, and began cleaning it with vigor. A mama cow's rough tongue stimulates the calf to take its first breaths and to try to sit up. It worked. She cleaned the calve's head, it sneezed a few times to clear the amniotic fluid from its nose, and laid there calmly as Mae cleaned it carefully. Within ten minutes it was standing, wobbling around on four of the longest legs I've ever seen on a calf. She would stand, sway back and forth, and fall on her face in the straw, then try again. It wasn't long before she was up and stayed there. She tried nursing from the barn wall, the gate, and Mae's front leg before Mae got her situated where she was supposed to be. And my goodness but did that little calf go to town nursing. She's a strong little gal, and got her belly filled up nicely. The she wandered out of the barn into the corral and stared into the light, walked back inside, and plopped down for a nice little nap. Mae stood sentry over her, the way she does, still contracting while the placenta worked its way out as the calf rested at her feet. I took a break and got a bowl of cereal.
By the time I got back, the calf was nearly dry and nursing again, this time on much stronger legs. When she was finished nursing, she did a little jig, danced and hopped around the barn stall (at two hours old!) and then had another nap.
She's a pretty little red-brown calf, strong as I could hope for. The girls had her named by the time I got back out from breakfast. Her name will be Hazel because of her pretty brownish coloring and because we have a hankering for old fashioned names.
Welcome to the world, little Hazel.
This was the fourteenth birth here on our little farmstead. All but one have gone as smoothly as we could hope for and have required very little or no assistance. And every single one still leaves me in awe at the miracle of birth and the instinct of animals. This is why we do what we do!