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Friday, February 12, 2016

A Touchdown on Superbowl Sunday

At least it was a mild day when the first cow went into labour. The Farmer did his morning head count and when one cow was missing it took a moment for him to find her. We could barely make out her dark form in the shadows under some cedar trees, along the fence line.
“Great. She’s way the hell down there,” he muttered. I pulled my boots on and prepared to join him on the ATV. We might have to taxi a calf back up to the barn.
When we approached, Gina stuck her curly black head out from under the cedar boughs.
“What are you doing, Gina?” I questioned her. “Do you think this is a good spot to have your baby?”
Apparently she did. She was carefully tramping fallen cedar boughs in a circle and, I had to admit, it did look pretty comfy. But there was very little wind block, and we needed to get both her and her calf up to the barn, where they would be kept inside for a week or so.
The coaxing and encouraging began.
“Come on, Gina. Up to the barn. Let’s go. Giddyup.”
She just looked at us and blinked with her long eyelashes.
Then the Farmer got off his 4-wheeler and started in her direction. She leapt out of the bushes and started up the well-beaten cow path up to the barnyard, stopping every few feet to turn around and look at her prospective birthing spot. She mooed her intermittent complaints. The other cattle gathered around to see what excitement had her bawling.
“She’s going to have her calf today,” the Farmer announced.
Well I could have told you that.
It would likely be a few hours, so we went back up to the house to make lunch.
And then, about two hours later, the Farmer went to check on his herd.
He popped his head back into the house. “Come see this. And don’t wear your best clothes. You’re gonna get dirty.”
A man of mystery, my husband is. But I appreciated the warning when I saw what he was talking about.
Hurried out of her preferred birthing location, Gina had chosen what she considered the next best thing. She gave birth to her calf on the soft, matted hay that circles the feeder in the middle of the barnyard. In a warm, wet pile of manure.
Remembering last year’s disaster, where we arrived to find her big, beautiful calf dead, we hurried to pull this one into the dry warmth of the barn.
Now, you’re not supposed to get between a cow and her calf, unless you absolutely have to. Depending on the nature and mood of the mama, you could get yourself killed. Or at least kicked really hard. I’ve seen big, fat Betty send a hoof out at a perfect 90-degree angle from her body, like a whip. Lucky for us, this cow was not aggressive. In fact the look in her eyes was pretty terrified.
The calf was already standing, and attempting to walk around its mother. The Farmer took a long rope and looped it into a lasso. He pulled the rope around the calf’s neck and under one leg. He took another lasso and tied it around the calf’s hips. Then he handed the end of the first rope to me and motioned for the barn. My husband is so used to farming on his own he barely speaks to me. It’s all telepathic. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t.
I was pretty anxious to get this filthy, wet little thing to shelter so I used all my strength to hop/dance it over to the old horse stall. The little bull calf was about the size of a full-grown Labrador Retriever but instincts told him to put the brakes on and he was resisting forward motion. It took every bit of my strength to move him over the ruts of frozen manure and mud in the barnyard.
The Farmer had lined the stall with soft, dry hay, and filled the feeders and water buckets. Gina mooed a bit as we stole her calf, then followed closely behind. Good girl. That makes it much easier.
The rest of the herd crowded around to see what was going on. Some of them tried to get in the stall with the new little family. It was a bit chaotic, trying to sort them out, Gina all wild-eyed and panicked.
Finally Gina and her calf were safely locked in, and she set to work at cleaning him off. A mother’s work is never done. He was born on Superbowl Sunday, so we are calling him Touchdown. One down, eleven to go. Let the games begin.

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