It's Calving Season
March came in like a lion and went out like a lion around here. But we had a few breaks for sunshine.
And newborn calves.
The calves make it all worthwhile. I watched a nest of calves jump up and run in a pack, kicking up their heels and twisting, their tails in the air.
That was during one of those breaks for sunshine.
Last Saturday, the foggy morning brought a chilled calf that needed to come in. Coordinated chaos got the pair to the corral, but the calf, Number 17, wouldn’t nurse well even with my help. That afternoon the sun came out and the temperatures felt like real spring. Five cows calved as we listened to another doom and gloom forecast on the radio.
One of those cows was Maija, my milk cow. Her due date was not until mid-April. Her bag had been getting bigger, but typically she lounges around with a full bag for at least a week. Then she produces a couple of gallons of colostrum for a couple of days before going into high gear with five to eight gallons of milk plus what the calf drinks each day. I wondered what I would do with all of that milk.
I needn’t have worried.
That night, the temperature dropped to 7 degrees and the wind blew three inches of snow, drifting roads and coulees once again. No worries, I’ve dealt with this before. I thought about my neighbors who dealt with this weather every single day of their January and February calving seasons and felt lucky.
The early morning calf check revealed two cows with newborns down in a ditch, tucked out of the wind. All of the other expectant mothers seemed to have their legs crossed.
I found Number 17, the chilled calf from the day before, laying in a puddle under a corral feeder. I thwarted his death wish with a heat lamp in the barn and a tubing of his mother’s colostrum. The wind confused the young calves in the pasture. Two ended up on the hilltop, curled up into a lousy defense against the wind. I alternated feeding hay and straw that morning, surrounding the babies with a windbreak of straw bales as fast as I could.
The temperature rose to a springtime 16 degrees, but the snow never quit pelting the faces of all of us who were outside.
I dashed to town for meds – by now Number 17’s mama had developed mastitis. I would have to cull her so I didn’t want her to die.
I picked up Abby from school while I was in town. We decided to check for calves before we changed out of our town clothes, just in case.
It was a good thing we did.
A cow picked a spot near the morning newborns for her birth nest. Only, when her calf came out all wet and cold, as calves naturally do, she decided a calf standing nearby must be her real baby.
Abby’s tennis shoes slipped on the ice as we pulled the wet newborn up a steep hill, tossed him in the back of the pickup and headed to the heat lamp. Abby rubbed the calf with a towel for an hour while I convinced both mothers and the standing calf to mosey to the barn. The stepmother, whose real calf was now in Abby’s capable care, only tried to knock me away from the baby once, while we were on the bridge, with four feet of water raging under us. I was especially motivated to remain upright.
I was concerned about a heifer and her confused calf from the morning so I rode out to find them. Instead, I found another newborn on the edge of a group of cows on straw, laying on her side, shivering. The mother was nowhere to be found – at least in the 30 seconds I took to look for her before choosing to save the calf. I traded the horse for a pickup, tossed the baby in the back and hauled it to the kitchen. Once again, Abby went to work with a towel and her elbow grease. Maija’s colostrum helped, too.
By morning, the calf was enjoying the hardwood floors in the living room. She soon found company under the heat lamp at the barn.
The confused cow who wanted to adopt the wrong calf came to love her real calf, but the heifer who used my kitchen for a hotel has been abandoned even after her mother stood in the chute and let her nurse.
It looks like Maija will have three calves to raise this year and I won’t need to worry about what to do with all of that milk. Whew!