When a calf is born in cold weather

After I came home from church today, Boss Man called and told me he had to be out of the yard for awhile. In Boss Man terms, that can mean anything from 30 minutes until sometime later in the week. What he was getting at was that I was going to be responsible for keeping an eye on our herd, which happens to be smack dab in the middle of having calves.

No biggie. I’ve watched the cows before. I can handle it. And then he gave me a little reminder, “Keep an eye on 176. She’s off by herself to the east.” In cattleman terms, a heifer off on her own is a sign that she’s probably getting ready to have her first calf.

So I watched our cow cameras diligently. And after an hour or two, decided I should walk down and check things out in person. (You see, much like most of technology, the cameras only work in the right circumstances…cows facing the right direction, right lighting, right angle, etc.)

I put my wraps on (long underwear, jeans, heavy socks, t-shirt, sweatshirt, coveralls, jacket, scarf, hat, gloves, Bogs), grabbed my phone and headed out. And quickly realized my mistake.

The cow I thought I was watching wasn’t the cow that needed watching. The cow on the west end of the straw, in the midst of all the other cows, was actually the one calving. And by calving, I mean the birth was imminent and I had no time to get her to the barn.

So I stood and watched the miracle of birth, and called Boss Man to let him know that I hadn’t exactly succeeded in my duties. (Ideally, all calves would be born in the warmth of the barn, not out in the cold…but you must make due with the cards you’re dealt. I can’t turn back time – yet.)

This heifer (which means this was her first calf) ended up having her calf outside. Not ideal with the temps below freezing.

This heifer (which means this was her first calf) ended up having her calf outside. Not ideal with the temps below freezing.

This meant I needed to get the new calf to the barn – and the quicker the better.

The trick is that sometimes cows don’t want you to take their calves to the barn. And since this was her first calf, I wasn’t sure how she was going to take the news I was about to break to her.

She's a good mama, which means that she's protective of her calf. Not always an easy task to get them to the barn.

She’s a good mama, which means that she’s protective of her calf. Not always an easy task to get them to the barn.

To begin with, she wasn’t too sure what this thing was on the ground next to her. But she figured it out pretty quickly. And then she was pretty certain that I wasn’t supposed to be there. And she let me know. (A cow can easily injure, or even kill, someone not paying attention and respecting the power of the animal.)

But when it’s only a few degrees outside, you don’t have luxury of time before the calf is at risk for frozen ears or worse.

So we compromised.

I finally got the calf in the sled. (Thank goodness I’ve dropped a few pounds.) And to the barn. Usually the cow would follow, but this new mama was a bit confused about all the action. So I brought her down once the calf was given a ride to the barn.

Thank goodness this little one cooperated...mostly. Imagine dragging a 100-pound child in a sled while they're trying to stand up. It's a workout, to say the least.

Thank goodness this little one cooperated…mostly. Imagine dragging a 100-pound child in a sled while they’re trying to stand up. It’s a workout, to say the least.

My next job was to bring the heifer down to the barn. Thankfully, she was pretty easy to bring in.

My next job was to bring the heifer down to the barn. Thankfully, she was pretty easy to bring in.

And the reunion was a sweet one.

Success. Both in the barn, no injuries, no cold calf, and everyone happy.

Success. Both in the barn, no injuries, no cold calf, and everyone happy.

Last week I was in DC in a suit, I’ll be dressed up tomorrow for work – but today was one of my favorite outfits of all.

Purple coveralls and blue polka-dot Bogs. I don't have to worry about one of my boys stealing my cold-weather gear.

Purple coveralls and blue polka-dot Bogs. I don’t have to worry about one of my boys stealing my cold-weather gear.

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Guess what time it is?

Let me see if I can give you a few clues:

These will keep me warm, especially at night.

These will keep me warm, especially at night.

These critters are now a little closer to home.

These critters are now a little closer to home.

This place is ready for some company. (And the moon was just a cool bonus.)

This place is ready for some company. (And the moon was just a cool bonus.)

I'm gearing up for a little less sleep and a lot more "fresh air."

I’m gearing up for a little less sleep and a lot more “fresh air.”

Have it figured out yet? Here’s the last piece of evidence you need:

The first calf of the 2014 calving season is enjoying a little bit of time under the heat lamp. The next few months will be busy on the farm!

The first calf of the 2014 calving season is enjoying a little bit of time under the heat lamp. The next few months will be busy on the farm!

 

 

Mandible mayhem

WARNING: This post may be graphically upsetting to some! (Consider yourself warned)

Really.

No, it may not be a pretty sight.

Well, actually, it’s not that bad, just makes you feel a little bad for the poor thing.

Here’s the scoop: on Easter Sunday Boss Man’s amazing sister and her husband were out helping Mark with a few of our sick calves. Sick calves happen sometimes, but we wanted to have an expert’s opinion (or opinions in this case) and wanted to make sure that the treatment protocol was correct. (Did I mention that my wonderful sister-in-law and her husband are BOTH veterinarians? We are so very, very blessed!)

While out in the lot, looking at the calves that weren’t feeling so hot, they came across one that seemed to be a bit more out of sorts than the others. And quickly realized that this calf was in need of help.

broken jaw, veterinarian, healing a calf

The calf is sedated (which is why it looks so loopy) and the x-ray showed what the vets knew to be true, the jaw is broken.

So, our vets took over and loaded the calf and the cow up in our trailer and hauled it the 2 1/2 hours to their office. And there they did an amazing job fixing it up, so that within a few weeks this calf will be completely healed.

broken jaw fixed on calf

The calf is still sedated, but the jaw is now aligned and secured to heal. Notice the feeding tube, so that proper nutrition can be maintained.

The feeding tube was placed so that we can make sure that the calf is getting all the nutrition that it needs. It’s free to suck from the cow if/when the calf is up to it, but all healing needs proper nutrition. Every day, Boss Man milks the cow by hand, and feeds the rest of the milk to the calf through this tube.

You may be wondering what happened to cause the break, and although we didn’t see it happen, we can about guess. It appears as if the calf was kicked by one of the cows. Now, it could have been its own mother, not liking something that was happening when the calf was sucking, or perhaps the calf was trying to suck off another cow and ended up kicked? We’ll never know for sure, but all we needed to know was that the calf needed help.

So, is the calf sickly and moping? Does it spend its days in the barn? Not at all. Its outside, enjoying the spring air on the farm, coming in at night to be fed and rest in the barn. It is in a more secluded pen, but there are other calves and cows with it.

calf with broken jaw

This calf is now ready to come back to the farm, all fixed up! We’ll be keeping an eye on it, making sure healing progresses, and recheck in a few weeks!

As you can see, the calf is perky and was ready to make the trek back home. Isn’t it amazing what can be done?

I want to really thank our wonderful vets for taking such amazing care of our herd, even from so many miles away. I know just how lucky we are to have such a great team.

And don’t worry, I’ll keep you up-to-date on the progress of this calf. It already looks a ton better, just from the swelling going down!

As you can see, we go the extra mile to make sure our cattle (and calves) are cared for…but we’re open to answer any questions you may have, so ask away!

Calving: Backwards Calf

Last weekend I was helping out Boss Man by checking cows. It’s become one area of the farm that I’ve been able to get more involved in, and I love it!

During these cold winter months, we check the cows that are due to calve at least every two hours. We do this to try to guarantee that calves are born inside the barn, where it’s warm and protected, not outside in the cold. Another reason to check on the cows frequently is to be able to step in when there’s a problem…and on this particular day, there was one.

One of the things that I look for when checking cows is the presentation of the calf being born. As I talked about a few days ago, sometimes calves can present in ways that jeopardize their chances of being born safely, much like when a woman is pregnant and the baby is breech, transverse, etc.

When a calf is presenting in the best way possible, they come out feet first, headlong…kind of like they’re diving out of the birth canal. You look for the feet to be toes down, or the hoof to be pointing down towards the ground.

If you look under the tail, you can see that this calf is being born with its toes pointed down. By catching the cow at this stage, she was able to walk to the barn and safely have the calf indoors.

If you look under the tail, you can see that this calf is being born with its toes pointed down. By catching the cow at this stage, she was able to walk to the barn and safely have the calf indoors.

Unfortunately, when I noticed that this particular cow was calving, the toes were pointing up, indicating that the calf was coming backwards. In this case, the calf needs to be born quickly, so that it’s chance of survival is greatest.

This is a diagram of what a calf being born backwards looks like. A quick delivery is the best way to guarantee that the calf has its greatest chance of survival.

This is a diagram of what a calf being born backwards looks like. A quick delivery is the best way to guarantee that the calf has its greatest chance of survival.

I let Boss Man know what I had found, and he was able to assist the cow in having the calf quickly by attaching pulling chains to the back feet, and pulling the calf out at the same time that the cow is pushing. Together they quickly delivered a healthy calf.

It’s great to know that your hard work and dedication can pay off, especially when sleep is short and the list of things to do gets long.

Have any other questions about calving? Be sure to ask, and I’ll explain what I can (and look up what I can’t!).

What size of brush are you painting with?

I was watching George paint the other day. It was entertaining, to say the least. He would take his paint brush, and dip it into all the colors, then get mad when the picture didn’t turn out like he had imagined.

And he expected me to fix it.

This little artist gets frustrated when his "masterpieces" don't turn out as he had planned. Sometimes instead of being a beautiful piece of work, it's just a mess.

This little artist gets frustrated when his “masterpieces” don’t turn out as he had planned. Sometimes instead of being a beautiful piece of work, it’s just a mess.

He couldn’t understand that the problem had nothing to do with the paper, or the colors, or me, but with the brush he was using and how he was using it. And it reminded me of a conversation that occurred online just a few days ago.

Someone had asked for anyone that calves this time of year to explain why they were doing it, or what benefit they perceived that they received from calving during winter months. I simply replied that with our operation and our location, calving now was what made sense for us. It’s easier for us to deal with snow and ice, rather than mud and muck.

It's not always fun making sure the cattle stay protected in the winter, but the snow and ice are easier to deal with than...

It’s not always fun making sure the cattle stay protected in the winter, but the snow and ice are easier to deal with than…

...the mud and muck of spring.

…the mud and muck of spring.

The responses that were received from people who also raise cattle was surprising, to say the least. One claimed that “winter calvers” are not profitable. Another claimed that some people were too willing to work too hard to make less money.

At first I was somewhat offended. And then I found a little humor in the situation. But it wasn’t until watching my son getting frustrated with his paintbrush, that I realized the lesson that could be learned from it all.

The humor? Well, if winter calving operations aren’t profitable…then there’s a check or two that I’d like to cancel. Mainly to the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, Boss Man will be relieved to hear that our days of paying taxes are over, now that we’re a non-profit livestock operation. Whew! What a relief that is! (Yes, my dear reader, that is sarcasm. At its finest.)

The lesson? When you’re working to make a better picture, using a broad brush will get you nowhere. Neither will dipping your brush in all the colors, expecting for everything to work out.

The same is true in agriculture…or any industry, actually. What makes our way of life great is the reds, the blues, the greens and yellows. All the different colors, all the different sizes, shapes and methods of operating. Together, agriculture makes a wonderful picture. But if you try to shoehorn us all into what you perceive to be the “only way” to farm or ranch? Well, you end up with a big old ugly mess.

We all have the same end result in mind. A great, abundant, affordable food supply for anyone looking for it. And the beauty is, in the great country we live in, the choices are there for you to make. You can decide the types of food you want, the way you want it raised and the price you want to pay for it…there’s always a decision, even if it’s take it or leave it.

Making sure that our calves are healthy and happy...that's our main objective, same as most anyone raising livestock.

Making sure that our calves are healthy and happy…that’s our main objective, same as most anyone raising livestock.

And we have choices, too. We decide our methods and what works for our operation – whether it’s calving now or in the fall, using no-till or conventional methods, growing organic crops or using biotechnology. It’s one of the main principles our country is built on.

I was upset by the insinuation that our operation was sub-par because of the decisions we made, but after the lesson my son taught me, I’ve taken something valuable away from what could have been a disappointing situation.

And that was my choice, too.

WW – Calving 2013

I have a lot of stuff running through my head, but not enough time to write it all down. Here’s some cuteness to get you through the day:

A peak at a new calf through the gate in the barn.

A peak at a new calf through the gate in the barn.

Fresh on the farm!

Fresh on the farm!

This is the fourth bull calf from #27, the famous cow the tweets!

This is the fourth bull calf from #27, the famous cow the tweets!

Just catching some rays!

Just catching some rays!

Strike a pose!

Strike a pose!

Most kids get in trouble when they drink milk straight from the carton!

Most kids get in trouble when they drink milk straight from the carton!

WW – Calving workout fashions

I’m short on words today. Well, actually, more like out of breath and can’t talk, but same difference.

This morning, Boss Man called and needed help getting a cow in. She wasn’t supposed to calve yet, so she was out with the rest of the herd. We bring them in as their due dates arrive, so that we can carefully watch those that are close, and still give lots of exercise and space to those that are further out. This cow ended up giving birth to a dead calf. What was the problem? We’ll never really know, but since our herd has a high percentage of twin calves born, Boss Man thought that she may have a second calf, so we needed to bring her in.

Problem was, she didn’t want to come in.

In fact, she rather preferred being out where she was.

And so she kept returning.

And returning.

And after chasing her through knee-deep snow for 45 minutes, her and four of her best bussie buddies decided to come into the yard…as if it were their own idea.

Needless to say, it was a really great, intense cardio workout. And I would have appreciated it more, had I not just finished 20 minutes on the elliptical. Seriously. The scale better show some excellent progress tomorrow.

That being said, I have to give props to my boot purchase from last summer. I picked up a pair of Bogs on clearance at a nearby Scheels store. (Nearby being 2 1/2 hours from here. Distance is relative, I guess.)

I love my new boots! Comfy, warm, and they stay on my feet! (And just so happen to be cute!)

I love my new boots! Comfy, warm, and they stay on my feet! (And just so happen to be cute!)

I always wore Muck boots, but they would make the backs of my ankles sore after walking in the snow for any length of time. These fit like a glove, keep my feet warm and dry, and I don’t have to worry about Boss Man slipping them on accidentally! (Or any of the boys, either!)

Nap time, here I come…

No one gave me these boots, I paid for them with my own money…or it may have been a gift card…or something. Point is, neither company know that I exist, and all the thoughts above are my own – as scattered as they may be.