I don’t recall ever hearing a farmer or rancher say calving heifers is an easy task. And they usually wait until the middle of the night to have trouble calving.
I dread hearing the phone ring during calving season at night because that means I get to brave what ever Mother Nature and Old Man Winter have decided to throw at us. But riding my horse under the night sky with only a flashlight and his sturdy feet to guide us is very tranquil. And not many people get to experience this feeling!
Last night, Troy’s dad called to tell us there was a heifer whose calf was presented with only one leg showing. When a mama cow delivers a calf, proper presentation is the front legs showing first, with the head resting on the legs. After layering on my Under Armour, Elmer Fudd hat (no laughing, it’s very warm) and insulated muck boots I was ready to brave the cold, wind and winter precipitation that was falling from the sky, courtesy of Old Man Winter.
The horses were in a deep slumber (and I wished I was) and I thought that they would probably enjoy a little more rest. They had a hard past few days and deserved a break from our nighttime rides. We thought since the heifer was by a gate it shouldn’t require much work to follow her to the calving barn, we could just use the four – wheeler rather than the horses. I should have known better and saddled the horses rather than thinking the four – wheeler would make things easier!
The journey to the calving barn started with the heifer easily going through the gate. I thought this was going to be a piece of cake, and was happy I didn’t bother the horses midnight slumber. Well little did I know the heifer had a game plan of her own!
I was on foot following her down a hill along the fence line. Typically, we follow the animal along the fence and it works fairly well. We open the east gate of a large round pen, follow her around to the west gate and drive her up an alley into the calving barn. Works pretty slick. Well, this heifer had a different idea!
As I was following her down the hill she decided to turn around, run past me and back up the hill. I think she was silently laughing at me. When the heifer got to the top of the hill, she decided to blaze her own trail to the calving barn and ran to the west. Seeing this, I decided to run down the hill and open the west gate to the round pen, as she was running to that gate.
My decision to race the heifer to the gate would have been a good one, with one exception – the ground was saturated from the rain and melted snow from the past week. I had flashbacks of my high school cross country racing days and really thought I could beat her to the gate. My long stride was eating up the sloppy ground. Winning!!! Well until I felt squish squish squish between my toes!
My adrenaline had me so fired up that I didn’t realize I had lost my boot in the mucky mess. With the heifer rapidly gaining on the gate, I didn’t want to disappoint Troy. There’s nothing worse than failing to complete a task in front of your husband! I continued my quest to open the gate. I made it and got the gate opened just in time for the heifer to run through the opening. Feeling victorious, I found my boot and went to the calving barn.
With the heifer in the headgate and safely restrained, it was time to see what needed to be done to get the calf born. Troy slipped his arms into disposable OB sleeves to palpate the cow and reposition the calf. After getting the calf in position, it is time to assist the cow with delivery by “pulling the calf.” When pulling a calf, we wrap small sterilized OB chains around the front feet of the calf, sit on the floor behind the heifer and pull on the calf in time with the animal’s contractions. This doesn’t harm the cow or calf.
With Troy and I situated behind the heifer on the floor, we each had a chain in our grasp and were pulling together. It seemed as though the heifer had given up so Troy and I pulled a little harder on the calf. The heifer must have had an energy drink because just then she gave a big push. All 75 pounds of her wet calf flew out and landed in our lap, including the amniotic fluid! I definitely think the heifer got the last laugh!
As much as I dread waking up to the phone ringing, I wouldn’t trade my lifestyle for anything. Even if it includes mucky mud squishing between my toes under the moonlight late at night and a wet newborn calf in my lap!
There is never a dull moment on America’s farms and ranches!