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.