Beginning Farmer: Heifer/Cow Birth

We have now calved our 5th calf.  We have learned a lot along the way.  For both David and I we discovered that this is actually one of our favorite parts of the farm.  We talked about even becoming a calf/cow operation in the long term future and not sell meat (long term, this will not happen for YEARS).  We love watching the momma cows, see the playful babies, think about genetics and what personalities we can help create, etc.  If you've ever been curious on what all goes into this, read on!

Our First Birth

We started with Red, formerly known as Red Licorice.  She was a "clubby" breed, former 4H calf that when the world shut down, 4H was cancelled that year.  So she was halter trained, and relatively cheap.  Yet she was our first oldest cow.  So when we got the bull (definitely a story for another time!) Red went into heat, and we knew she was pregnant when she never went into heat again.  Her and the bull became best friends.  We never got her preg checked through a vet, but we just knew she was pregnant.  We even had a general idea on when she would give birth.  A cow has a gestation of 10 months, so we knew it'd be October. 

Our biggest worry, was that we liked Red, she was our first cattle, and if she was a bad mom we might have trouble getting rid of her.  There was also no other babies on the farm, so Red had NO idea what was coming for her or what to do afterwards.  We just prayed she could figure it out on her own with no one to teach her.  

Our neighbor texted us two days before we were leaving for vacation that Red had given birth.  She had videos and pictures of the tiny little calf.  We were so excited! It all went well, no complications, etc.  We got home and took pictures as well.  Then I had an epiphany... I was pretty sure we were supposed to give it shots or something.  But we had nothing ready.  

Birthing Protocol

We called up our neighbor who is extremely helpful and him and his son brought over all the shots, navel dip, and colostrum we would need.  They walked into the pasture with us, we talked about how we were concerned for Red's udder, they showed us how to tell if she gets mastitis, they told us Red had too big of a calf so next time we needed to back off on the feed so it doesn't hurt her (which is the reason we have a small bull, since all our girls needed a small calf their first birth, but we messed up on the first).  Red wouldn't really let the baby nurse, so they showed us how to get the calf under there, spray some milk on his face, and let them figure each other out.  

Without our neighbors this could have gone so much worse.  We did have to chase the calf down a little while later to castrate it.  We are hoping one day to have a chute so this is easier.  So we were ready for the next one.  We had the shots ready, navel dip, and colostrum, just in case.  

Penny - the Second Birth

Then came Penny.  We didn't have any idea her age, so we didn't even know when to expect her to go into heat.  We didn't even know if she was pregnant.  Penny is a jersey, which normally means other beef producers get jerseys to be the nanny milk cow for bottle babies.  We thought Penny would be great.  She loved hanging out with Red's baby and babysitting, so we were stoked that she would be a good mom. 

One day, two days before vacation in February (noticing a trend? We honestly don't even go on that many vacations haha), I had thrown hay outside for the cows.  I was in the barn feeding the chickens when I noticed Penny wasn't going outside.  I couldn't figure out why until I noticed a little baby calf laying in the straw.  I closed the barn door with the other cattle outside, and let Penny bond with her calf - he was still steaming from just being born!

And Penny acted just like all the jokes about heifers, She had no idea what this calf was, what she was supposed to do, why she couldn't go outside with the others, etc.  We had to keep them together for four days before we finally felt like Penny would be a good enough mom they could rejoin the herd.  We got lucky that she delivered in the barn and we didn't have to try to move them.

Our Most Difficult

I was on vacation, camping with David's family, while he was stuck at home working.  He went out Sunday morning to do chores and saw the tail end of the heifer (nicknamed Spaz), give birth.  He left them together to bond, texting me what happened.  He asked me, when I got home, to check on them since Spaz was laying down - which wasn't normal post birth.  I got home a few hours later and she was still laying down.  I went in the pasture and noticed the calf hadn't been cleaned off either and she never ate her afterbirth (bet you didn't know that, kinda gross huh?).  She tried to stand up but it's like her back legs didn't work and she just collapsed.  

I called the vet who came out.  She administered an IV, she intubated Spaz with more liquid, giving her electrolytes and calcium, etc.  The vet pointed out how skinny she was, saying she may have been struggling to birth for days, but regardless of what happened it caused neurological damage.  The vet told us if she wasn't up in two days "you need to shoot her".  We got Spaz grain, hay, and water so she could be healthy enough to recover.  We left the calf with her so she had something to fight for.  We also gave the calf colostrum and a bottle so that the calf could be healthy. 

And one day later she was up and moving.  She did abandon her calf, but we are so thankful to have the two both still alive.  Normally with this difficult of a birth either the cow or the calf would die.  


So even though we are new farmers, figuring things out as we go along, we are thankful for the support system that keeps our cattle healthy (and alive!).  Our neighbor, those who've written blog posts, the extension office, and our vet, has all made it so we are able to keep doing the thing we love.