Last November we purchased a young heifer to add to our small herd of cows. What is a heifer? It's a young female cow that has not had a calf yet. And a steer is a male that has been castrated. FYI... (I didn't know that when we first came to live on the farm!) We named her Thursday. We bought her on a Thursday so it just stuck. Over Christmas we borrowed our neighbour Graham's bull to cover our cows. He was happy in our paddocks for about three weeks, then jumped the fence back to his own herd. We were not sure if he had done his job or not. In January, Graham said to us that we needed the bull again. How did he know? Well, when the girls start getting frisky with one another then you know! So Mr Bull came over again for a couple of weeks. It seems that his first visit was a success. We have just seen the result. So if you want to read on about the birth of a calf, do so. If not, come back next time! The photos may be a little graphic for most tastes. However, there is nothing more amazing than the birth of an animal.
The birthing started around mid day on Sunday. Graham came over and said that he was sure we'd be proud parents by the end of the afternoon. He'd just driven down the road past our back paddock and seen a couple of feet poking out the rear end of Thursday. Frans and I geared up (jackets, hats, cameras and mobile phones!) and headed down to where the action was happening. It is a mission to navigate the paddocks at the best of times. The pug holes (from the cattle hooves) are deep and tretcherous. You step on a seemingly dry patch of mud, only to find it is a thin crust and below that is a foot of slushy mud.
We had to get to the heifer. She was right at the end of the farm, on the other side of the dam. Frans edged around the swampy areas toward the mum-to-be. She would not let him get close to her. She would lie down then get up. You could see she was struggling. Her contractions were about five minutes apart. We were not sure how long she had been going. I was standing in the middle of the paddock googling 'how long is a cow in labour' and 'what are the stages of birthing in a cow'! Isn't technology amazing? I learned very quickly that the water sack is the first thing to appear, followed by the front feet if you're lucky.95% of cows deliver the calf with the front feet first. Rear legs would not be good. So as I was learning on the spot I would call out to Frans "can you see the water sack?". He would shout back "what's that?". And so we went on. After an hour or so, Frans decided that Thursday was not progressing as she should and we called Graham. He arrived a few minutes later.
Yes, these are my feet. I managed to plant myself knees first into the mud. I was glued into the sludge. Frans had to come and pull me out. The mud seeped into my boots and my socks were soon wet. The mud and water on my jeans turned cold and the next few hours were not the most comfortable, but there was too much excitement to worry about a bit of mud!
With Graham helping us, we moved all the cattle from the bottom paddock up to our gate and to his cattle yard. We needed to get Thursday into the yard where Graham could see what was happening close up. It took around half an hour to move all the cattle. We put all of them in the cattle yard as Thursday would be less stressed if the others were around her.
This is the start of five minutes of high adrenalin. Even Bobby, the farm dog from next door was keen to see what was happening. Graham stripped off his outer clothing and got serious.
First an examination. With Frans' help, Graham tied a short length of rope to each of the fore feet that were just sticking out. Then he positioned a long metal contraption to the back of the cow. (the bovine version of forceps!) The ropes were anchored to the long bar and Graham started winching the calf out of the mother.
Positioning the giant foreceps.
From start to finish this process only took a couple of minutes, but it felt like an eternity! Here the little face is just starting to poke out.
Thursday was bellowing at this stage. Who wouldn't!
Almost done! Once the head and shoulders were out Graham gave another tug to get the hips through the opening.
The worst was over. Now the baby calf was left to 'hang' for a few seconds before it fell onto the ground naturally. The fall is the equivallent of a newborn baby getting a smack on the bottom to start it sucking in air.
All that hard work left the little calf exhausted. Thursday didn't really know what to do with it. So we stepped away from the yard and left the mother to bond with the calf for an hour or so.
A couple of hours later we went back to check on them. The calf had not moved. By now it should have been up and suckling. One sign of encouragement was that Thursday had started licking the calf. We went away again and got back onto Google! How long before a calf stands up, and how long can a calf go without drinking?
We were incredibly relieved when the next time we went to check, the baby calf was up on it's shaky legs and drinking. The first three or four days the 'milk' is actually colostrum. It is important for the calves to get this nutritious
substance into them. No different to human babies. The afterbirth is visible and aparently the cow will eat this. The umbillical cord will shrivel and dry.
Graham packing up his gear.
We decided that we would move the new mother and calf back to our home paddock. She would be more familiar there rather than remain in the stock yard. We let her out and she took off down the hill, leaving her new calf behind. Frans decided to carry the calf to the paddock, but soon changed his mind when he tried to lift him. Oh, it's a boy by the way! So Graham and Frans lifted the new little bull onto the back of Graham's red ute.
Slippery little sucker! A big load of washing coming up!
The little calf may only have been two or three hours old, but it was strong and needed firm handling.
Frans had the job of holding onto the calf while Graham drove into the paddock. Four wheel drive definitely required!
When we came to the farm, one of the first jobs that Frans and Graham did together was to put a gate between our properties and a gate on ours. This means that we can herd cattle between our places without going around the fenceline and driving the animals into the road. We're pleased that we did this. We have used the gates a number of times and this time proved that the system was working well. We could safely move the cows back and forth.
Baby calf was deposited in the middle of the paddock. Thursday is the black dot to the left of the tree. We were sure she would come up to the calf. We did not want to get too close to her. She was showing signs of being a protective mother earlier on. So we left the calf and took ourselves out of the paddock.
A while later Thurday still had not come up to her calf. So Frans took some hay to the calf, hoping that Thursday would come for it. Still nothing.
Only one thing left to do then. Take the calf to the mother! Necessity is the mother of invention. So Frans hefted the very heavy calf into the wheelbarrow and bumped him down the hill to his mother. I was standing on the other side of the fence and called out to Frans "did you ever think you would be pushing a calf in a wheelbarrow in a paddock on a rainy Sunday afternoon?". It was hard work. The ground was soggy and uneven, but he made it. Baby calf was deposited close to the mum and we let them be.
Nature is quite amazing. Instinct takes over and soon baby was up and feeding again and the mother was mooing constantly, teaching her baby her call. You may be wondering why Thursday needed human intervention in something as natural as a cow giving birth. Well, Thursday is relatively small and this is her first pregnancy. And the bull that covered her was BIG. So we knew she would potentially need help. And she did.
So here he is... Sunday. Ok, if Nicole can call her kid Sunday Rose, we figured we can call our new calf Sunday. Roast.