A cow lying on her side with her legs stuck straight out like this is not a good sign. “She’ll just be in the throes of calving,” I told myself as Zoe, baby and I bounced across the calving paddock.
It was not to be – the little cow was trying to push out a massive bull calf who had become stuck just after his shoulders. His tongue was pink, his eyes shone but, sadly, he was gone. Our attention turned immediately to the cow for if left too long, she would almost certainly suffer paralysis.
We keep a strong rope in the calving paddock’s medicine chest to help with calvings when necessary. Although we select bulls with smooth shoulders and of medium stature in an attempt to avoid trouble, calves are sometimes just too big, turned the wrong way or the cow is simply too weary to manage it on her own.
I looped the ends of the cord around the calf’s feet, stepped into the circle and eased back with the cow’s contractions. Nothing. I tried again but the calf could not be budged. Heavy reinforcements in the shape of husband Wayne were called in and, thankfully, the calf was out.
By then, I’d discovered there was another cow in trouble. 196, who is 14 years old, had earlier given birth to a beautiful heifer calf and when I went to check on her, this is all she could manage.
Dear old 196 was suffering from milk fever. This is really a metabolic disorder suffered by cows who just can’t get enough calcium into their blood streams after calving. Calcium is vital in the control of muscles, which is why she didn’t have the energy to stand up. Because the heart is a giant muscle, milk fever can also cause heart failure and immediate treatment is vital.
We minimise the risk of milk fever by feeding the cows very differently in the three weeks before calving. Instead of grass, they get hay that’s low in potassium and grain, while we add anionic salts to their water. This regimen encourages the cows to release calcium into their bloodstream so it’s available in the hours of peak demand after calving. When milk fever does strike, we give the cows a drip that includes calcium and sugar. Most cows are as right as rain again in no time, as was 196!
Both cows taken care of, we turned around to go and goodness gracious, it was all happening, including yet another calving underway!