Although we keep an eagle eye over cows as they approach calving time, most give birth perfectly naturally without any help from us just like this lovely lady. Her calf was up and walking within the hour and running by the afternoon. These little animals are amazing sprinters! Just ask eight-year-old Zoe, who tried and failed miserably to outrun a three-day-old calf this morning!
Daily tasks on a dairy farm are a great reminder that, no matter what happens, life goes on.
While the floods have given us a good shaking, the circle of life continues to turn. We lost one cow last night because her calf tried to come out with all four feet at once but were delighted to assist the delivery of this lovely little calf.
Most cows manage calving on their own with ease (at least relative ease compared to human birth) and we don’t intervene unless we must for the sake of the cow and calf.
Typically, cows tend to head off to a quiet spot on their own to calve, often pacing around and around as the contractions begin. We look for two front feet first, then a nose. The calf should seem to be diving out of the cow! The whole labour shouldn’t take more than two hours or so.
Wow! After seeing thousands of calves born over my lifetime, it still amazes me.
By the time I took this photo at 11.50 yesterday, I’d been watching over cow 506 for an hour or so. She’d been showing all the classic signs of a cow about to calve: restlessness, getting up and down. It was a relief to see her labour had progressed. I came back again an hour later to make sure everything was okay and look what I found! Licking her little one with gusto, she looked very comfortable.
Of course, it’s not always this simple. Sometimes the calf is too big, sometimes breech, sometimes the cow herself has a problem. With 340 cows set to calve over the next few months, it’s an anxious time for us.
To make it easier to keep an eye on our ladies, we do a weekly sort-out, drafting cows that are about three weeks from calving out from the rest so they can get extra special TLC in our calving paddock. This paddock is small and close to the house and dairy. We check it three times a day and, if any of the cows look like they’re about to calve, we hop up during the night to check them as well. Some of the signs are a swollen vulva, mucus, tight udder and unusual behaviour. The reality is though that, despite breeding programs meddling with the cow’s biology for thousands of years, almost all of them calve quite easily.
I hate comparing women with cows but, at almost 36 weeks myself, I can’t help wondering why it seems so much more complicated for us!