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!!