Friday, March 17, 2017

Midnight Chase

     It started in the afternoon and at that point it wasn’t too crazy.  Joe spotted a heifer out in the field, trying to calve, and after giving her a couple of hours to  push on her own, he decided that we had better get her in.  So, he came to the house and asked if I would come with him. 
     I  drove the truck out and parked it next to the barn, angled so that it made a funnel that would hopefully send the heifer into the open gate.  Joe took the four-wheeler and drove to the far end of the snow-covered field.  He was a quarter mile away from me and across the river.  I wasn’t feeling very hopeful that he could work this one heifer all the way back to the barn, but he did. 
     She wasn’t too spooky and she churned up a frothy wave of snow as she ran just a little ahead of him. Within twenty minutes, the heifer was in the barn.  I swung the gate shut after her. I should have known that nothing on the farm is that easy.
     Once she was inside, we could see that the heifer had been trying to calve for a while.  The bag of amniotic fluid dangled and swung behind her like a pendulum as she moved around, and Joe said that he had seen two hooves slide in and out while she was running down the field.  But, the calf pulling equipment was six miles away on our other farm, so we locked the cow in the barn and went back to the house to call youngest son, Scott, who was down there.  He said he‘d be up soon with the pullers.  I went back into the house to fix supper.
     By the time Scott came home with the pullers, it was dark.  When they went out to the barn, Joe and Scott discovered that the cow had broken the lock on the gate and pushed her way out into the night. They came back to tell me.  It was snowing again, and pitch black outside, but Joe said that he and Scott could get the cow back in, so I waited in the house.
     Occasionally, I looked out the windows to gauge their progress.  I could see their truck lights bouncing up and down as they searched for the heifer and then, after a while, I could see her shadowy form racing in front of the trucks.  They headed to the barn and I thought they must have captured her, but fifteen minutes later, I looked out and the truck lights were stabbing wildly across the field, going in the opposite direction, as they bounced in hot pursuit of the cow, again.
     I jumped in my vehicle and drove out.  The snow was falling harder.  I parked against the gate, making a funnel again, and then stepped out into the darkness.  There was nothing but wind and blowing snow and the occasional glimpse of truck lights far away in the field to keep me company.        As I waited and watched, the cold air drove snow pellets into my collar and under my hat.  It was so quiet. Then, the truck lights turned and headed my way, and once again, I could see the shadowy form of the heifer moving in the beams.  She dropped down into the river channel and ran along, so Scott jumped out of his truck and followed her, his flashlight beam dimmed by the curtain of snow.  I turned my flashlight on, so they would know where I was, but the cow veered out of the river channel, turned and galloped back the way she had come.
     I returned to the warm truck and Joe and Scott drove up the field, following the cow through a water gap and into another field.  After a while, I realized that they were three fields away, so I drove back to the house, parked, and slogged through the snow to the hill where I could see their lights.  Both Joe and Scott were out of their trucks in hot pursuit, flashlight beams and choice words flying around.  Once again, the heifer eluded them, so they gave up and drove back to the house.
     After supper, and some time to warm up, Scott said there was a good chance that the heifer's labor would stop and then she and the calf would both die if we couldn't get her in and help.  He pulled on his boots and bibs and headed out again to look for her.
     At midnight, he still hadn’t returned. I can see almost a mile in all directions from our upstairs windows, but I couldn’t see his lights anywhere so Joe and I dressed for the cold again, and went out into the night.  The snow had stopped and the moon made shadows under the trees, but the only sign of Scott was a set of four-wheeler tracks headed south through the fields.  I feared that he had wrecked somewhere.
     We drove a mile, over small ridges and through two gates.  The four wheeler tracks disappeared at the river.  We were about to turn around,  when we saw a flash of light in our neighbor's barn.    When we got there, Scott met us.  He was covered in blood, but it was the heifer's, not his.  He had managed to rope her, tie her to the barn and pull the calf. The red stains on his hands and down his coveralls were her afterbirth.

     After all of this, the calf was alive.  
     We let mama and calf out, yesterday, and both are doing fine.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

     Spring has come early on our farm, with temperatures well above normal for the last couple of weeks.  The trees are all pushing out buds and I'm wishing I could run around and push them back in.  It's too early and we are in danger of losing our fruit crops if there's a hard freeze, which there is sure to be.  It's only March 1st and in Highland that usually means at least a month and a half more of winter.
    The calves and lambs are coming, but for them, it is time.  Only, instead of being ahead of schedule, they are a bit behind.  Especially the lambs.  Last autumn was warm and sheep don't breed well in warm weather.  So, the girls are taking their sweet time.
    Joe and I pulled a calf a couple of days ago.  Joe spotted the cow out in the field in the morning when he left for work.  She was lying off by herself, and she was too far away to tell for sure, but he said she appeared to be straining.  When he came home, that afternoon, the cow was in the same spot and when she stood up, there was plenty of placental material hanging out her back end, but no calf on the ground.
    So, he hopped on the four wheeler and persuaded her to make the short trip to our back lot.  I helped him get her in the pen and then we moved her into the head chute.  Joe had me stand at the end where the lever is, and gave me instructions to "pull hard when her ears come through."
     I'm always afraid that I'll pull too late, and the cow will escape, but I got it right this time.  With a clang, the gates slammed shut, trapping her head on one side and the rest of her on the other.  Joe walked up behind her, rolling up his sleeves, and then slipped his hand up inside the old girl.  He had to go in all the way to his shoulder before he found the problem.
     The little calf was what we call "bass ackwards."  He was trying to come out tail first.  So, I spoke soothing words to the mama (which really doesn't help her at all, but makes me feel better) while he fished around inside her trying to find a back leg that he could grab.  Finally, he eased one out and then the other, but mama cow still couldn't budge her baby past her pelvis.
    I ran to the shed and came back with a sheep halter and a dog leash (in a pinch you use what's handy) and we looped them around the calf's hocks.  Then we grabbed the other ends (one for each of us) and began a slow steady pull. Mama mooed and grunted and pushed a little and like a cork in a very tight wine bottle, the calf slowly slipped out until he plopped on the ground behind his mama.
     Joe was surprised that it was alive because a backwards birth can often mean that the calf inhales amniotic fluid before it's born.  The calf was bubbling and frothing, but after mama backed out of the chute and turned to lick it, the calf stood on wobbly legs and got his first taste of milk.
    I love it when that happens.
     The next day, the two were moved back out to pasture and while we were doing that, we discovered a calf with a broken back leg.  Our guess is that it stepped in a hole.  The vet was called and Dr. Joe and my Joe crouched over the little calf in the field while mama cow pawed and snorted and pranced.  Then she ran far away and they were able to finish in peace.
     When the calf had a cast, Joe sat on the back of the pickup and we drove the calf over to his mama.  Joe bawled like a calf to get the cow's attention, but she looked up and at us and then ran the other way, back to where the calf had been. So, we left the calf and drove away.  There's no use playing tag with a cow and calf.  The cow doesn't know what we're doing and just runs away.  Better to leave the calf near other cows.  Eventually mama will find it, and she did.
     There's always something to worry about during the spring, but this time we had happy endings.