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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The emotional roller-coaster that is life on the farm.

 Early last week I went out on a mild pre-snow morning and found Julie's calf in the hay under the feeder.

The little thing was about the size of a black lab. I picked her up, waved her under mama's nose and backed myself up into the barn. Julie started to follow me in, but as I was tucking the calf into a stall I realized the bull had followed me in first. Just then the Farmer shows up. Why does he always show up just at the moment when I am royally screwing up?

"Great. Now how are you going to get him out of here?!" the Farmer inquired.Young Angus swung his big bull head around, bumping into the medicine cabinet and work shelf, threatening to knock them both to the floor. This is not the first time that I have thought, thank goodness he's a really tame bull. I scooped up some sweet feed, squeezed past him out the door and waited for him to negotiate a three-point turn back out of the barn. Then I had to do the whole bait-and-wait routine with the calf again, successfully luring Julie into the barn. Finally. I was exhausted.

On the way back through the barn, I stopped to fill up the water trough. Rambo came over to see what I was doing, and I patted him on the head. Big mistake. Next thing I know I'm on the ground, and my thigh hurts where Rambo has head-butted me. And I can see he's lining himself up for another hit. I jump to my feet, kick my leg in his general direction, and shriek something at him. I think the shriek startled him more than the kick did. His rock head is much harder than my shin. He was sizing me up for another smack, so I took off out of the barn, the big fat sheep hot on my heels. I jumped into the cattle chute and he finally wandered away, with an unmistakable swagger. I sat for a moment and let the adrenalin drain from my veins. In my five years knowing Rambo, he has never attempted to hit me. Then again, I usually tickle him under the chin. The Farmer says the pat on the head is a direct challenge to his ram-hood.

And then it was Ginger's turn to calve. I was first to notice her heading off on a tangent across the snowy field, for no good reason other than to search for the best place in which to give birth. Later that day she had settled for the barn, and she was starting to show signs of labour. We locked her in, but had to usher Young Angus out first. He didn't want to miss the show this time. He is always very interested in the new calves and stands staring at them for a long time after they are born. Sometime after midnight the Farmer went out and found Ginger with her new calf. He put the calf on a trolley and moved the new little family into a warm, dry lambing pen. Well it was dry, anyway. Now it's mucky and cold. But at least it's warmer than outside. We spent most of today trying to get Ginger's calf to suckle. The little guy just doesn't have the reflex and as time passes it is less and less likely that he will recover. I can get him to drink a bottle of milk replacer, but it just isn't the same. The Farmer managed to steal some valuable colostrum from Ginger (against her willshe wants to kill my husband with those big feet of hers) and fed it to the calf. He seems to have enough energy but that too will fade as the temperature drops if he doesn't start to suckle.

We gave him a shot of selenium and the Farmer has just run into town to get more Vitamin A, D and E. I will go out in another couple hours and feed him two more pints of milk replacer, but we may just be postponing the inevitable. Not all endings are happy ones on the farm.

Friday, January 13, 2012

and the calf wore eyeliner

Betty carries her pregnancies so well, you don't know she's pregnant until her udder starts to swell up. We assumed she had caught, but she missed one year so you never know with her. It's always her little secret, right 'til the end - which was yesterday.

The Farmer noticed the big cow was 'bagging up' and looking for a comfortable spot in the barn instead of lording over the hay feeder. "Ugly Betty is going to go first this time. I guess we have a new boss cow."

I went out to check proceedings but it can take hours, just like a human birth. All I saw was a lot of water. Betty looked bored in her birthing barricade, so I got her a forkful of hay to chew on and went back in the house.

A few hours later we went out again. This time a balloon (the water sac) was protruding from Betty's behind and she was mooing in a low chant. I turned to go and get my camera but the Farmer said, "It will be a while yet."

About an hour later the Farmer went out to check on Betty. I heard the door open a few minutes later and jumped off the couch to pull on my snow pants. "She did it," he said.

We are lucky that our cows have been able to give birth on their own. I have researched assisted births in cows and it doesn't sound like fun at all: pushing the calf back in, turning it around, using a calf pull to yank it out no thank you. I nearly faint when I'm watching the Farmer help a sheep. I can't imagine trying to deliver a cow.

When we got out to the barn the calf was just lolling around on the ground, collecting its wits. Betty was vigorously licking her baby, drying it off and stimulating its senses. The calf peeked at me from under its mother's huge snout. Betty is a brown cow with a white face and her calf was black with a white face and thick black rings around the eyes.

What a pretty little thing, I thought. It looks like it is wearing heavy eye makeup, like Cleopatra.

"If it's a girl, her name will be Sophie. After Sophia Loren," the Farmer declared.

We filled up the water and hay and left mom and baby alone to get to know each other better. Young Angus, the daddy, stood at the half-wall and watched the proceedings.

I wondered what was going through his head as he stared at Betty and the calf. I rubbed his nose and he gave a little snort as if to say, 'leave me alone. I'm busy watching this.' After dinner, the Farmer said he was going out to check on the calf. I got engrossed in my book and didn't look up again until an hour had passed. Wondering what was taking him so long, I pulled on my snow pants and headed out again. I hoped he wasn't trying to move the 100-lb. calf to a dry pen by himself. I also hoped that Betty was on her best behaviour and hadn't head-butted or kicked him. These are the thoughts that ran through my head as I shuffled across the icy barnyard.

Slowly opening the door to the birthing area, I saw Betty standing in the corner, her calf standing beneath her. The Farmer's flashlight and teacup were on the half-wall. But where was the Farmer? I slowly moved farther into the pen and peeked around the half-wall, half-expecting to find my husband lying on the hay, unconscious. Nope. No Farmer. I looked outside. The other cattle stood just beyond the hay feeder, staring at me. Mocha mooed softly from inside the barn where the Farmer had moved her. It would be her turn next.

Just then I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. The Farmer was wedged between the cow and the wall. He was assisting the calf with the feeding. "Oh there you are!" I breathed a sigh of relief. "Thought you got yourself trampled."

The calf was up, it was suckling well, and the Farmer determined it was a healthy, strapping young bull. With eyeliner. So I named him Adam Lambert, after the glam-rock American Idol star. Maybe I'll email the real Adam a photo of his namesake. Hope he doesn't take offence.