Winter storms and a broken leg

Two days ago on Wednesday evening, there was a cold front moving through the area. Storms were predicted, followed by temperatures dropping into the 20’s. So of course when I checked on the herd one last time before nightfall, Ruby was in the center of the field, tail high and moo’ing. Her baby was on the way. I hung out by the fence for 45 minutes until darkness fell and I could no longer see Ruby. No hooves were present yet, so I knew there was time before the birth. After eating a quick dinner, Bill and I grabbed a flashlight and headed back to the field. Ruby was close to the rest of the herd with a freshly born calf next to her. I was thrilled, but also a bit worried because of the weather. By 8pm, a cold rain was pouring down along with thunder and lightning. Ruby was a good mama, I felt sure the little calf was warm, dry, fed and staying close next to mama.

First thing yesterday morning, I headed out to check on the new calf. Ruby had her baby nestled on hay on the lower slope of the field, well protected from the wind. The baby was a beautiful little red heifer!

As we began unrolling hay to feed, the other heifers realized a new member of the herd had arrived and a few came over to check her out.

In spite of enduring a February thunderstorm just hours after birth, the little heifer was spunky and thriving.

And then this morning, just 24 hours later, I walked into the field to feed the herd and found Ruby and her heifer lying a good distance away from the others. As I took a closer look, I saw the little baby was limping. Ugh!

Bill and I finished unrolling hay, and then turned our attention to getting Ruby and her calf into the corral. I moved Sundance into a stall in the barn, then opened a path through the electric fence to the corral. Driving the mule into the field, we loaded the calf into the back. But as cows will do, the entire herd began following the mule anticipating sweet feed, while Ruby headed in the opposite direction, searching the field for her calf. Sigh. Bill ran to the barn for a bucket of feed to distract the herd, while I desperately tried to get Ruby to realize that her calf was in the back of the mule. After a frustrating 15 minutes (I kept repeating to myself, “to work cows fast, work them slow”), I finally convinced Ruby that her calf was in the mule and she followed me into the corral.

With the calf safely in Sundance’s run-in in the corral and Ruby pacing nearby, I dialed the vet’s office. Dr Pat Comyn was available and could get to the farm within the hour. I was certain the calf’s leg was broken and was very worried she would have to be put down.

Dr Comyn arrived, performed a thorough examination of the heifer and determined the leg was in fact broken. One of the other cows had probably stepped on her. I held my breath waiting for his next sentence, was this fixable or the end after a short 36 hours of life. Because the break was not a compound fracture, Dr Comyn felt the leg would heal with a caste. I was so relieved!

We moved Ruby to the other side of the corral to keep her out of the way while her calf was being handled. Dr Comyn gave the little heifer a shot of anesthesia and once she was sedated, we lifted her on to the tailgate of his truck. Then, Dr Comyn got to work wrapping the first layer of bandage, followed by a layer of padding with a set of wires sticking out on each side. These wires will be used to remove the cast in 10 day. After 10 days, the first cast will be removed and a second cast added. Calves grow so quickly, that a second larger cast is needed before the bones are mended. I learned so much today!

A layer of orange tape was added to hold the wires in place and the padding on, and then Dr Comyn wrapped the leg with the wet cast layer.

Another layer of sticky tape, followed by a rubber glove on the hoof end to help keep the plaster layer dry and clean. Which realistically, will only be as dry and clean as a little heifer’s leg in a muddy field can be kept.

Dr Comyn suggested using a calf coat to help the heifer stay warm in the cold nights forecast for this weekend. With her broken leg securely cast, and wearing a cuddly warm calf coat, we set the heifer on a bed of dry hay inside the run-in to let the anesthesia wear off. I kept mama away from her calf until she was wide awake and back on her feet.

Soon the pair was reunited, although Ruby was a bit wary of the strange attachments her calf was now sporting. Because the heifer was so small, Dr Comyn recommended a different style of calf coat which fit her a lot better than the first. So I replaced the black one with the tighter fitting blue coat.

Ruby encouraged her baby to stand and move with a mama cow’s soft moos and licks.

All was going well except I realized the heifer did not nurse for the rest of the day. At 6:10pm, I checked on the pair to find Ruby laying on one side of the corral and her calf on the other. I knew the heifer had to be hungry and needed to nurse, so decided to get the two together before dark. After stopping by the house to get my farm clothes on, I then headed back to the corral about 15 minutes later just as the sun set. Amazingly, the heifer and Ruby were both standing up with the heifer nosing around for the milk, quite steady on her newly repaired leg. I sent a quick text to Dr Comyn with the good news. Wonderful ending to a long day!

This morning, I could hear Ruby was moo’ing at 4:00am. I figured she was still upset at being separated from the herd so I waited until daybreak to check on the heifer. The baby was fine, curled up and laying in the dry hay.

An hour later, mama and baby were happily starting the day together. Content, well fed baby and calm mama cow, perfect start to my day as well!

Strong enough to get breakfast
She can also hobble back on her own to the dry hay for a nap.

Scarlet’s Twins

With two healthy heifers close by her side, Scarlet’s work has begun in earnest. Neither heifer was very large, which undoubtedly contributed to their successful, natural delivery. The first one weighed a bit more at about 65lbs while her sister was a petite, 55lbs. In contrast, Hazel’s bull born on the same day, weighed in at around 75lbs.

With both heifers up and nursing, poor Scarlet is always busy. She is either cleaning one heifer while nursing the other, or nursing both at the same time.

Once in a while, Scarlet gets a free moment to eat a few bites of hay.

Twin #1 is adorable, with dark red fur and a pink nose.

Twin #2 is also super cute with large ears and bright eyes.

Scarlet is a great mama. She lets us get close enough to touch her babies, but calls them to her with soft mama moo’ing.

In an effort to help Scarlet keep her energy and milk production up, I have been taking a couple of scoops of sweet feed to her every afternoon. I hide the pan as I walk into the field, or the other cows would mob me. In a couple of weeks, I will put up the creep feeder to let the calves access and eat grain as well, and maybe take some pressure off of poor mama.

2020 Spring Calving Begins

Of course, the best made human plans are at the mercy of the rhythm of the farm. Last May, “bull-in day”, the day that Shane joined our ladies, meant that the earliest start date 2020 calving season was February 18. Even with 3 heifers, the chances that any of the ladies would have their calves in mid-February were slim. In past seasons, I was always anxiously waiting for weeks past the earliest start date for the first calf to arrive. So when my daughter asked if I would babysit my grandchildren in Massachusetts the week of February 16, I had no worries. Our calves wouldn’t arrive at least until early March, or so I thought.

As my departure day approached, a few of the cows began to show signs of their impending motherhood by “bagging up”, looking “floppy” or “springen”. Three ladies in particular, Billie who is an experienced mama, Scarlet who’s first calf we had to pull last spring and a heifer Hazel , a first time mama. Last week, we moved the herd closer to the house into the front field for easier observation and to be close to the working area in case of problems.

As I left at daybreak to begin my all day drive, I saw Hazel already up and grazing, away from the herd. Certain she might already be in labor, I texted Bill to keep an eye on her. Hazel is one of our Braunvieh-Angus crosses, and has a beautiful, chocolate brown coloring. An hour into my trip, Bill sent me an update text and a photo. The first calf of 2020 arrived but not from Hazel, from Scarlet. The season began with an easy birth and a healthy calf.

The weather has been oddly mild for February, heading north there was no residual snow on the ground and the next few hours of my drive proceeded uneventfully. Just before noon, my phone buzzed with another picture from the farm. Wait, what? Two red calves next to Scarlet, she had delivered twins! I immediately called Bill to get the full story. Apparently, when he and TA fed the cows and checked the gender of the calf, the older heifers were all hanging out at the far fence line, staring at something on the edge of the field. Walking closer to investigate, they heard a small moo and found a second calf, hidden in the grass nearly under the fence. The guys carried the second calf all the way up the field to Scarlet, where she immediately cleaned and nursed both little heifers, happily accepting the pair!

Bill kept an eye on the trio through out the rest of the day, making sure that Scarlet was tending to both of the babies, nursing and licking either one or the other. Scarlet herself was our first pure bred, red angus heifer born on the farm, and her calf last year was the first calf we had to pull. This year, she gave us our first set of twins!

Eight hours into my trip, I received yet another text and pic from Bill. I was almost afraid to look at my phone. Sure enough Hazel, the first time mama, was in labor. Bill had to call and ask TA to come back to the farm and also called our neighbors, Bev and Paul to come over to help bring Hazel up into the corral. With daylight dwindling, he also put in a call to the vet to give her advanced notice in case help was needed. Once safely inside the corral, Hazel’s water broke and labor began in earnest.

One of the best sights to see when a cow is in the process of delivering a calf is two hooves, pads down followed by a nose. This means that the calf is in the correct position to be born. Heifers still may need help delivering a correctly positioned calf, especially a large one, but the job is more straightforward with a calf in diving position. Hazel was thankfully delivering a correctly positioned calf.

I arrived in MA after an uneventful, 10 hour drive but without hearing any further news from the farm. As the day turned into evening, I began to fret.

Well passed dark, I finally received the update call from the farm. After 2 1/2 hours had passed without Hazel making any further progress, Bill contacted the vet and said her help might be needed. As if on cue, Hazel gave one more push and out popped the calf. Needless to say, both Bill and our vet were delighted and relieved. Hazel was the proud mama of her first calf, a healthy little bull!

Three calves arrived days early to start our 2020 calving season off in a flurry. Fingers crossed that the other expecting ladies wait until the end of the week for me to come home to the farm before delivering their bundles of joy!

The next morning, just 12 hours later, Hazel’s boy in the morning sun all dried and well fed. He is beautiful!!