Monday, March 17, 2014

A World of Calving

In last week’s blog post, I said we had a calf that needed a mother. Well now she’s got one.

We had a nice cow give birth to a dead calf, no sign as to why. We took her to the barn and suckled the orphan on her. By suckling, I mean restraining the cow and putting the calf to her udder by hand. At first any cow kicks off an unfamiliar calf by smell, but if you give it 2-3 days of twice/day nursing, the cow will usually accept the calf. Partly because her milk runs through him and he becomes more familiar to her.

Mark decided to hurry this particular adoption along by skinning the dead calf and tying the hide onto the orphaned baby. After one night together in a barn stall they were good to go. I threw the hide over the fence; the mother cow none the wiser. 

The great majority of births go as planned, but there’s always a few that go awry. Most problems on the ranch have to do with mal-presentation of the fetus. A calf is supposed to enter the birth canal front feet first with the head laying forward. However, a calf may have grown wrong in the uterus and is unable to be delivered because of a leg back, the head facing downward, has his butt first or even, as Mark described the other day, “in a wad.” In these cases there’s no good outcome if left to nature.  

Mark generally notices if a cow has been calving too long and will take her to the barn for assistance. He puts a long plastic sleeve over his arm and reaches in the cow. He pushes and pulls (often with accompanying curses) and corrects the calf’s position. He then lets the cow deliver the calf on her own, or helps by pulling either by hand or with a “calf puller,” a simple device that multiplies torque. Most of these cases have successful outcomes.

But even with a rancher on call, a few still die. I told Mark it must be spring because each one of our three herding dogs has a calf carcass to consume.  That may sound grisly, but it’s good food and proper to replace manufactured dog food when possible. Besides, I assume that predators have always prospered during the calving interval of wild herds. 

As an aside, the dogs are tied out in front of the house. It’s a gruesome scene - not really the best time to entertain out-of-town guests.

the ruse is on

another sign of spring - tulips!

one that didn't suck - leading the cow to the barn

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