Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Special Delivery

I can remember when I was younger that going to the barn with Dad while he checked heifers and occasionally pulled a calf was one of the funnest things to do. First he'd get the rope around the cow's neck and tie her loosely to one of the railroad ties holding up the pens. Then, he'd grab the chains that had been rinsed in disinfectant and hot water from the displaced coffee urn. Then he'd fish around inside the heifer's pelvis to fasten the chains around the baby calf's front hocks. Then he'd place the hook on the chains, wait for the cow to contract, and then give a tug. Yellow hooves, wet legs and knees would slip out. Another little tug, and I could see the nose and mouth, tongue long and curved. If all went well, usually one more tug would free the calf. If not, the calf puller with a pulley all rigged up would be fastened to the chains. A ratchet would slowly turn the pulley, and working with the heifer's contraction, a bit more slack, and a bit more slack would be gathered in. Eventually a low moo from the cow could be heard, and the calf would land with a thump on the straw-covered barn floor. Occasionally a piece of straw would be used to poke through the slime to get the nostrils clear, so the baby could breathe. Then, we'd hustle out of the pen, gathering up all our tools.

Usually, I'd hide behind a big round pole in the barn watching the mama sniff at her baby, while dad cleaned all of his gear. The little heifer would breathe so hard that dirt and straw would fly up and stick to the new, wet calf. Eventually the cow would go to work with her coarse tongue, licking off the mucous and fluid, which in turn stimulated the baby calf to think about his first meal. Watching the baby calf stand on wobbly legs and try to find its mother's udder is really pretty funny. Instinctively they know what to do, but sometimes they get lost in the details and look under the neck or front leg of the cow instead of in the back end. But they're tenacious little buggers and eventually find their way to breakfast.

Last weekend while Scott was gone, I was promoted to Chief Heifer Checker. We had 3 little heifers decide it was time to calve, and we had 3 successful deliveries. Luckily, none of them calved in the middle of the night. I figured that it takes me 12 minutes to dress, get my coat on, walk to the corral, check all the heifers, walk back, get undressed, and get back to bed. Not too bad, really. Then comes the task of trying to go back to sleep...

I did learn something though: be sure to close the gates behind you as you take the heifer and her calf down to the barn. You see, I went out to turn the girls in to their dinner (a refreshing main course of alfalfa hay and seasoned with an assortment of wild grasses) and discovered a freshly licked calf right in the middle of the gate. So after situating the rest of the ladies, I headed to the barn to put hay in the new heifers stall and grab the sled so I could drag the calf back to the barn. I trotted down the alley, back to the heifer and her new calf. I bent over and grabbed the still-slimy calf and placed him gently in the sled. The heifer mooed at me, and then sniffed her calf to make sure all was well.

We started the trek back to the barn, me pulling the sled with the calf, and the mama, with her head lowered, following. I only had to stop once to put the wobbly calf back into the sled before making it to the barn safely. Mama was pretty suspicious once we got into the barn. I opened the gate to a pen and helped the calf out of the sled, turning around just in time to see Mama bolt out of the barn. I ran to the door to watch Mama run as fast as she could back to the place where she last had her calf. AAAargggghhh!

To make a long story short, I finally convinced the heifer to return to the barn via another route, through another set of gates, which I made darned sure I closed behind me each time we passed one. I still had to talk pretty hard to get her into the pen without escaping. I usually get chilled enough that I have a hard time warming up when I get back into the house, but not this time. I was breathing hard and working up a sweat. Who knew that calving could be such a good aerobic work-out? (Although "Sweating with the Heifers" may be a little tough to market as an exercise video....")

We've had a week's hiatus from any calves, which has turned out pretty good since we now have 6 inches of snow on the ground and it was below zero this morning. I am looking forward to warmer weather and trips on the four wheeler and to the pasture to check on and tag the 3 year old's calves. Tomorrow will be the 1st of March... thank goodness our below zero days are numbered!!


Marisa said...

Traci, something is messed up! Great post, by the way, I enjoyed it. However, I've been watching for updates to the blogs I follow, and suddenly, today, you had one on Tuesday? yet when i read it, you say tomorrow is the first of March. Tricky, tricy, how did you do that? Again, good, descriptive blog. I felt like I was there!

The Farmer's Wife said...

#703 just had a bull calf...first calf of the year at Lang's Fork Inc.! I love the pictures...frame 'em for your living room. Or entry way.

I'm as mystified as Marisa, about the timeing, but since I don't really understand how a toaster works, much less the computer, I won't question it, I'll just enjoy it! (And if I get lengthy explanations on how toasters work, in response to this comment, just know that I'm not one who really CARES how things work, just so long as they get the job done...)

TraciG said...

The only thing I can figure is that I started the draft on Tuesday, and didn't have time to finish it until today...

As for toasters... Alton Brown did a complete episode on Food Network. I'll spare you the details M.

scott said...

Good pics dear. Good job calving heifers while I was gone. Is that a blue tag in a heifer calf? Just kidding. Love ya.