It has been a challenging week around here. Late Sunday night one of our first time heifers – Laverne – went into labor. We watched as she labored and labored but after two hours she wasn’t able to deliver the calf . The calf’s front hoofs were showing which was a good thing, it meant the calf wasn’t breach, but she still didn’t have the calf on her own and we knew we would have to help her. This blurry picture is not Laverne, I didn’t have time to take pictures and it was the middle of the night, but you get the idea.
We had probably become a little complacent as the past three years all the cows had calved on their own with no trouble, so we really weren’t as prepared as we should have been. Laverne was down in the lower pasture and the squeeze where she needed to be so we could pull the calf is up at the top. So at midnight we played musical pens with the heifers and got her moved up to the squeeze. Once she was in the squeeze with her head in the gate we started trying to pull the calf. In case you have never pulled a calf, let me tell you, it is not easy. And once again we were not as prepared as we should have been and didn’t have calving chains. The chains help you get a better grip on the calf’s legs and also have handles that attach to the chains so you can get some leverage. Since we didn’t have chains, we used a rope on one leg and just got the best grip we could on the other and PULLED. With both Rick and I pulling as hard as we could and Laverne pushing as hard as she could we finally got the calf’s head and front legs out. We were pretty sure he would be dead by then but there was a little flicker of the tongue when I cleared the birth sac from his nose, so we knew he was alive – barely. We pulled and pulled some more and finally got the calf all the way out. We worked on him for quite a while and finally got him breathing. It turned out he was a big bull calf (when we weighed him later he was 80 pounds) and he was not looking good at all. We got him cleaned up and dried off and hoped he would live. Laverne was quite upset after her ordeal and really didn’t pay too much attention to him which is not normal behavior. Usually the mother is immediately licking the calf to clean them and then nudging them to get up. They are usually up on their feet and nursing within 15 – 20 minutes. So we made the new calf A-1 a bottle with powdered colostrum replacer and he was able to suck that down. We hoped by the next morning he would be recovered and able to stand and nurse on his own.
Unfortunately that was not the case. He was very weak and barely alive the next day and not able to take a bottle. We knew we had to do something or he was not going to make it. We called the vet and he told us what should be done. So, faced with that situation we had to stretch a lot and learn to feed this calf with an esophageal feeder. None of us had ever even seen a calf fed that way, much less done it ourselves, but we had no choice. In case you have never seen a calf “tubed” you can see how it is done here. I must say the vet in the video makes it look really easy, and he does it all by himself. It took three of us the first time! Two holders and one “inserter” but we got the tube into the calf’s esophagus – and not his trachea which would have killed him – and got two quarts of colostrum and milk replacer into him. It is kind of a scary thing to put that long tube down the animal’s throat, but it had to be done. We hoped that would give him the strength to nurse, but he was very weak and still couldn’t suck. So we kept up the tube feeding three times a day and, like most things in life, we got better at it with practice. I must tell you though, the last time I did middle-of-the-night feedings was 1988 and then I could just stumble out of bed and get the baby changed and fed and crawl back in bed. I didn’t have to sterilize equipment, mix up milk replacer, get dressed in work clothes and muck boots, hike out to the pasture and tube feed by the light of a headlamp. Then go back to the house and clean and sterilize everything. I’m too old for this!
The other part of this equation is that if Laverne was still going to have milk available for the calf when he was strong enough to nurse, she had to be milked. So, once again Laverne went into the squeeze head gate and we got out a pail and milked her.
I don’t think we are ever going to be champion milkers and Alex decided milking really wasn’t for him. Laverne is not a dairy cow, but we did manage to get a quart of milk to tube feed her calf and keep her in milk production. The whole thing was a lot of work and took a lot of time, including the midnight feeding by flashlight, but we kept A-1 alive. He got stronger little by little and finally was able to get up and nurse when he was five days old!
I don’t think I have ever been so excited to see a calf nurse. Quite honestly none of us really thought he would make it, but as they say “where there is life, there is hope” and he pulled through. And now two days later he is up running around and playing with the other calves.
You would never know what a rough start he had. And while all that was going on, two other calves were born. One of those had to be pulled as well, but it was easy compared to A-1 and that calf, A-2 was up and around and nursing in no time. In case you were wondering, cattle are usually identified by a letter which indicates the year of birth; last year was Z and we had Z-1 and Z-2. This year is A, and so far we have A-1, A-2, A-3 and just this afternoon, A-4. When calving is finished, we should have six more . We’ve also been working away on the store and I promise to get some pictures of that posted soon.