Working with cows everyday, I am often struck with amazement at their abilities and instincts. I’d like to share some of these interesting observations.
Sense of Smell – Some of you may not know how often a cow uses her sense of smell. During calving she is able to smell her amniotic fluid, even in a calving ground where hundreds of cows calve. As co-blogger Erika pointed out in ‘Baby’s First Toboggan Ride’, this is why it can sometimes be a pain to move the cow and/or calf. The cow is drawn back to the place where she birthed her calf and dropped her fluid. It is easier to move the cow when she has the scent of the newborn calf to follow. It can be a REAL bear to try and move a cow after her fluid has broken, but the calf is not born yet.
A cow will also use her sense of smell to help her navigate. Last summer it caught my attention when a cow ‘smelt’ her way to the other cows. We were clearing out a pasture and had moved a large group of cows and calves out. We realized we had missed some and went back to get them. I noticed as a cow continually smelt the ground, following the trail of the others and her calf who had been moved out earlier. I would expect this from a dog, but found it very interesting that a cow also uses their sense of smell! We play a game of hide and seek with our cows in the summer when we put salt out on our 50,000 acres of range land. Salt comes in a 50 pound block, which they lick. Each cow will lick through about 10 pounds of salt a year. In this game, we have never had a block that a cow hasn’t found and licked; a very good sense of smell!
Whereabouts – I find it incredible how a cow can consistently recocgnize her own calf and keep track of it’s whereabouts! I guess this must go back to smell! Tonight we were coming up our driveway and a little calf was sleeping in a ditch on the wrong side of the fence. My husband got the baby up and started to bring it up out of the ditch and get it to the correct place. From way up in the field about 200 meter away, the mama came bawling and running down toward us. Even though she could not even see the calf yet, as it was behind a steep bank, she knew we were ‘touching’ her baby! Often a mom will ‘stash’ her newborn baby somewhere safe. It’s like she says, “You go to sleep right here. Do not move. I will come back to get you!” Isn’t it amazing that a cow, in the dark, from a long ways away, can know it is her baby?
Daughters, Mothers, Grandmothers – It is very interesting over the course of the calving season to look at the patterns of family members and their calving. Often daughters, mothers, and grandmothers will calve within days of each other. On our ranch we can recognize this because of the way we tag. In this picture there are 3 tags in the middle. The cow #13U, her daughter and her granddaughter all had their babies on the same day. I am not sure why it is. Possibly because of the way their cycles fall in the same pattern or time frame. It happens very often and I think it is interesting!
Most ranchers hear that word and shudder, but I just love twins. Maybe I am still too young and naïve, but there is something so amazing to me about twins! Yes, they are a pain in the butt and cause extra work during calving season, a time where extra work is not needed, but I can’t help it I love them. Every year it’s different 2 years ago we had 3 sets of twins, last year we had one set and this year so far we’ve only had one set as well. This set was born one afternoon when I was at the ranch all by myself (I swear all disasters happen when I am by myself). I was doing some chores around the barn yard and looked down to the bottom field where all our pregnant cows are and noticed that a cow had calved, I grabbed the calf sled (refer to my last blog post about the calf sled) because it was quite cold that day and still a lot of snow on the ground. I walked down and pulled the one calf up to the barn no problem and resumed doing some other chores. Not an hour later I looked down at the field again and noticed another cow had calved, so I grabbed the sleigh and went to pull up the latest calf. I got down there and noticed this calf was tiny (one clue it might be twins), but I put her in the calf sled to tow her up to the barn. I figured if it was twins, the mom will follow and she can have the second calf in the dry barn. WRONG! That is not what happened at all. I put the calf in the sled and the cow who is older, this was her 4 calf behaved like a heifer, she did not follow the sled and just walked away and layed down. At this point I was positive she was having twins, so I left the first calf in the sled, I thought at least she was up off of the snowy ground and let the mom have the second calf. This plan was going well until I noticed that the second calf was being born right in the amniotic sac. This is scary because the thick skin is covering the calf’s nose and it could suffocate. I decided to sneak up behind the cow and try to break the skin, well the skin was too tough and I couldn’t break it and on top of that I scared the cow, so she stopped pushing and got up. I was pretty nervous at this point that I had messed up and I was worried that the second twin wasn’t going to be alive. I was worried because she had already had the first one quite awhile ago and there is the possibility of umbilical cord breaking on the second twin. I just wanted her to lay down and HAVE THE SECOND BABY. Of course, that is not what happened she just kept wandering around, not pushing meanwhile the second calf’s 2 front legs and nose was out, but still covered in that skin. I am going into definite panic mode at this point, so I decided to run up to our calving shack and grab a rope, I figured my only option at this point was to rope her, dally her to a fence post and pull this poor little guy. So that’s what I ended up doing, of course it took me quite a few shots with the rope, but I finally got her and got the calf out and he was alive! YAY! So that ended up going well thanks goodness. However, now is the part where Rancher’s don’t like twins because there mom’s generally don’t have enough milk to raise two calves. There are two options, you can possibly draft the twin onto another cow who has recently lost her calf or bottle feed both of them. We have been bottle feeding the twins twice a day. Currently, both twins are doing great and we have recently quit bottle feeding them because we are feeding their mom separately really good feed and grain, so she is milking really well and producing enough to feed both calves.
The red white faced calf is a heifer calf (girl).
The black white faced calf is a bull calf (boy).
I tried to take a video of bottle feeding the twins, but apparently it didn’t work, because it was so funny they would get so excited for their bottle and when one calf was sucking the bottle the other would try and push them off of it and latch on themselves.
Depending on the weather, sometimes we have to pull the newborn calves up to barn in our “calf sled”. We do this if the weather is really cold and wet. We have found that calves do a lot better and keep for getting sick if they can stay dry for their first couple of days of life. This past February the entire month was miserable and cold, -20 and colder, and lots of snow, so we tried to calve everything in the calving barns in hopes of preventing the calves from getting sick. However, sometimes the mama cows don’t cooperate and have their baby out in the field in the snow. This is where the calf sled comes into play. If we feel the weather is too cold and too wet for the calf to stay outside we will walk down with the sled, put the calf in the sled and tow him into the barn. Usually this works well because the mom will follow the smell of her calf and follow the sled right into the barn. However, sometimes it does not work out that well, especially if you are dealing with a heifer’s calf. A heifer is a female who has calved for the first time, therefore the whole experience is new and a bit frightening so throwing a calf sled in the mix can really throws things for a loop. The majority of the time the heifer will follow her calf in the sled as well, but occasionally she just runs around looking for the calf and returns to the last place the calf was. This can be frustrating because when this happens it usually turns into quite a chore chasing the heifer around, so she follows her calf. If only we could communicate with them that we are just trying to help….
Lately on our ranch, our three daughters are in ‘baby animal paradise’!
As you know we are in the middle calving. This is when all the mother cows have their young. But to add to the mix, in December we bred our cattle-herding dog ‘Red’. A few days after Valentines Day she had seven puppies. On my farm as a child, our female dog would often have puppies. I have such fond memories of playing with the puppies and wanted my girls to experience the joy too. Then last night, in conjunction with our 4H Club, the girls got 12 baby chicks. They are heritage breeds which will grow up to be laying hens.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie ‘Despicable Me’ but there is a scene in it where the youngest daughter says, “It’s so fluffy, I’m gonna die!!”
That is about where my girls are at! Its like a petting zoo around here and the girls are loving it!
Here are some pictures of the various babies:
Yesterday I left Doug to it, as I headed off for a day of skiing with my daughters and their school. At 6 p.m., when we drove in the yard and asked “How’s it going out there?” we found that Doug and our other daughter had just helped calve a calf that was backwards. They had four other calves in the day. Things had been quite pleasant with the sun shining and all going well, so Doug sent our hired man home early and Grandpa went out to dinner. At 8 pm Doug went out to check the cows again and I turned into bed early. (I was real tired sometimes we go to bed then get up again at 11:00 pm for the last check. This was the case for me last night.) On his check he found there was one more new calf out in the cow pen, looking like it was close to standing. He came back in and went out at 9 pm to see if the new calf was up. It was fine, but he found a cow with two back feet sticking out. This means the calf is backwards and has to be helped out. In a normal presentation, the face of the calf emerges before its umbilical cord breaks, it can take its first breath and all is good. But with a backwards calf, its umbilical cord breaks and its face is still in the womb. If the birth is not fast enough then it can be deprived of oxygen, and suffocate. So to prevent that, the rancher needs to assist and get the calfs face out quickly. If you’ve ever chased a pregnant cow, who really thinks she should calve right where she is, you might chuckle at the thought of a tired rancher wearing insulated coveralls and muck boots, running through eight inches of crusted snow in the dark! As I peacefully rested, he finally won the battle, getting the ole’ girl into the maternity pen and pulled the 2nd backwards calf of the evening. The minute the calf was out of her, that ole’ #567 ran Doug out of the pen saying, “I got this from here Sonny! Leave us alone!” He stomped into the house and work me up getting a bucket of water. In my sleepy stupor, I asked, “How’s it going out there?” He told me he pulled a backwards calf and was just cleaning up. Back to sleep I went, thinking we were good for the night, what more could go on? But at 10:30 pm when Doug walked out to retrieve the Gator (ATV) from out of the field where he had left it when his ‘fight’ with #567 started, he thought he should have one more quick look at the cows. At 11:30 pm I was awoken by the door slamming again and Doug stomping into the house. I asked, “How’s it going out there?” He said, “I just pulled a backwards calf and am cleaning up! I retorted with, “I know you pulled a backwards calf you told me that an hour ago!” It was like DejaVu! But, that was the THIRD backwards calf of the evening!! Very strange! At this point I felt very guilty for going to bed! Doug did finally join me at midnight, after he took one more quick walk out to get the Gator and one more quick look at the cows. Thankfully, all was quiet!
Here is a diagram of how a backwards calf looks:
Thoughts of days like this pull us through the long, snowy days of calving!