Born the Hard Way

On Sunday, Bella delivered a beautiful heifer that I named Pearl. She joined Josies’s day old heifer as the first 2 of 9 for 2019. Almost immediately, I realized both of these Mama’s were hiding their babies under a single strand of electric poly wire, meant to keep the herd away from a stand of woods. We decided to spend the day moving the herds around to get the cow herd into our South field where the fence was more protective and so the ones still due to calve would be easier to watch.

Bella’s heifer Pearl – Yep, it’s a girl!
The main herd excitedly ready to move to a new field.

Our cattle love to switch fields, so everyone happily settled into their new pastures by Sunday afternoon. Three of the ladies were close to calving, Scarlet, Ruby and Patty. Scarlet is Ruby’s daughter and at 3 years old, this was going to be her first calf. Last year, she bred but was not able to carry that calf to term. I was excited for this one because it would be the first 3rd generation calf born to our herd. This is a pic of Scarlet on her birthday in April 2016.

Scarlet as a newborn – April 2016

Early yesterday morning when I checked on the ladies, sure enough, Scarlet was in labor. She was pacing around, having mild contractions, but generally looked fine. I guessed within 2-3 hours the calf would be on the ground. As the morning passed, I checked on her every hour or so, and things progressed but at a slower pace than I anticipated. By 1:30, Scarlet began harder labor, started to repeatedly lay down and then get up, but still no hooves presented. When a cow gives birth, the best sight to see is the calf coming out in the classic diving position – two hooves with pads down followed by a nose. Anything else is a problem, and with Scarlet, no hooves at all after so much time, was becoming a problem. I texted a couple of cattle friends, and both said definitely time to get her up (aka, move Scarlet to a corral) and call the vet.

The stars had aligned for us with our decision the day before to move the herd to the South field. The panel corral was already setup, all we had to do was add the head gate. Of course, the other cows and new calves found all of this activity super exciting, and took the opportunity to play with every piece of equipment, oblivious to poor Scarlet’s uncomfortable predicament.

Scarlet in the corral.

Our large animal vet would not get to our farm for a couple of hours, but gave me some advice over the phone. Fortunately, one of our good friends and and an experienced cattleman whom I had texted earlier, stopped by to lend a hand. By now it was late afternoon and Scarlet had been in active labor since 7am. The calf had to be examined to determine it’s position in the birth canal, and would then probably have to be pulled out. Scarlet seemed to know that she needed our help and moved easily into the head gate.

One funny side story is that we had most of the basic supplies on hand for this event, except we needed iodine and lubricating ointment. Bill ran to the local farm co-op where he found the iodine but they were out of cattle lube. So he went to the dollar store down the road, and had to buy two tubes of K-Y personal lube. He said the clerk just smiled at him. LOL!

Scarlet -front end of the head gate.
Scarlet – back end of the head gate

I have done internal examinations on cattle before, but never during a birth. I put on the shoulder length gloves, disinfected with the iodine, lubed up and attempted to discern how far along the calf was in the canal and what part was presenting first. And then Scarlet started to lay down in the head gate. Argh … not convenient at all. We did everything possible for the next 30 minutes trying to get her to stay standing, but she kept laying down. In spite of the steep angle, I managed to feel two hooves and a nose, and the little thing actually licked my fingers from inside his mama. We still had a live calf! I almost cried, partly because this yet unborn baby licked my fingers and partly because we were a long way from a successful birth.

This is when the picture taking ended. All three of us, including our friend in his good work clothes, were covered in cow muck. Getting my arm well inside of Scarlet, I wrapped a chain around each hoof of the calf, above the hock, but could not get any traction because of the position of Scarlet. We had to let her out of the chute, chains dangling from her back end and then catch her again in the corral. This time, we let her stand in the alleyway with a board behind her to prevent my getting squashed if she backed up. Our friend and Bill cobbled together a makeshift tensioner using a ratchet strap and boards. With steady pressure, alternating pulling on each hoof with the chains, Scarlet suddenly realized she could help us by actively pushing as we pulled. At last, we saw the nose, then the eyes, the head and finally with a big woosh, out came the whole calf. I rubbed him down, cleaned out his air ways and the big, little bull calf took his first breath – a live calf on the ground!!! Time was 5:30pm.

Just born!
Scarlet first sees what all of her efforts made.

Scarlet suddenly realized this little thing was hers. After some time alone, she began tending to him, licking him dry and encouraging him to stand. Scarlet was going to be a good mama.

When our vet (who I consider a friend too) arrived, about 2 minutes after the birth, she examined Scarlet to make sure there was no tearing or issues created when the calf was pulled out. All was well with Mama and baby. We are so fortunate to have the help of a wonderful friends in times like these.