Calving Time – To intervene or not?

Our first heifer’s, very first heifer.

February is always an exceptionally miserable month. Still in the clutches of a long hard winter and spring still feels like an age away. So what could be a better time to kick off the calving season?

First up this year was a Heritage calf, a little lad we named Bert as his mummy is Blackcraig Bertha.  No intervention required, Bertha did a brilliant job all on her own. Bertha was artificially inseminated last year so it was exciting to see her produce a healthy little calf after the extra work involved. I was checking her every few hours or so then on the morning of the 5th I noticed she was showing signs that it may be more imminient, I decided on 30 min obs and left her to it. My presence was distracting her so I was trying to be as discreet as possible. Half an hour later I popped my head round the shed door to see how she was getting on. She was stood up looking relaxed now but I could hear this very odd sucking noise. Low and behold here is a rather large calf happily sucking away at all that mum can give. At that point I just knew it was a little boy!
A few weeks later Maximus Mairead arrived, the second little heifer Park Rosalinde has produced. Ros is a special cow for us, she is tiny and has lost some of her hair after a severe reaction to some pour on dose while at her breeders John Corrie. We bought her with Park Pocahontas at foot who is another tiny little heifer. She had to have an operation to correct a short ligament which was bending her leg over. We spent a lot of time nurturing them both so made sure we monitored her carefully right up to the point when she was calving. I had been watching her all morning and she was getting increasingly irritated. By the afternoon time she was starting to push and so I made sure Max was back here for assistance, just in case. We used extra lube and some calving ropes and delivered her safely later on that afternoon. So floppy and fragile, but within minutes she was up and wandering around trying to get to the life preserving colostrum from mum. Max helped set her on as she was sucking on everything bar the actual teat!
As we had seen both Bertha and Ros served (or ai-ed) we had a fair idea when they were due to calve to the day. Scanning had confirmed this for us so we were ready and both had been moved to a seperate calving pen days before in preparation. Not so for our next calf, Willy. Norma (my Christmas pressy) was due around about the beginning of March but we were unsure of the exact date. She was looking increasingly close but you just never know and one saturday morning we arrived at 6am to find him flopping about trying to find breakfast. We moved them both to another pen so they could bond. Again, Willy was to set on. We watched him for a while but couldn’t see any signs of sucking so gave him a little hand. It certainly doesn’t hurt to intervene when it comes to access to colostrum, in fact it’s essential. The calves need this first fluid to help give them immunity to disease, it has to be in the first 6 hours to be most effective.
Jaw Nicola was next. We bought her last year after she was bulled by Lordy. She was actually two fields away but made her way over to us here, it must have been love and so we decided to buy her. We had every hope that she would produce a dun belty heifer but this really was too much to ask for. A healthy live one should always be the starting point, anything extra after that is a bonus.  She started late on in the afternoon and so by the time she had started pushing Max was back from work. I keep a record of how long they have been in stage 1 and 2 or labour so we can make a decision on whether it is necessary to intervene or not. On this occasion she had been labouring for some time and was getting tired. A quick squidge with some lube and with the calving ropes attached, Max helped slide the calf out and presented it to her mum. It was a biggy! She really did need a little help with her, she had gone to day 291 which is a little over average so the calf was exceptionally big. As she starts to lick it and get it cleaned up Max starts laughing. Not only does it have a full belt, it is also Dun, but you wouldn’t believe why he was laughing. She had only given us our first Dun belty heifer! We were both delighted. We really couldn’t have believed that was going to happen.
As April arrived, so did our first little heifer’s first little heifer Shirley II. I had been monitoring Shannon carefully over the days preceeding as this was her first calf and so not only will her hormones have been going wild but she wouldn’t have had any prior experience to fall back on. She was looking increasingly tired and fed up as the week went on then one day I checked her in the morning and she seemed rather aggitated. I had been very exciting that this might be the day for the last 3 so tried not to get my hopes up too high! By lunch time it was fairly obvious she was thinking about it. Now as I entered the pen she backed up to the wall and was stomping around. I opened the gate and walked her out into a seperate calving pen, she was rather willing to get out onto her own. I bedded it up with fresh straw and waited. All cows react differently but you get to know each cow and how they get on with a birth as the years go by. In the case of a heifer it is all unknown so you have to be extra vigilant and extra careful as even your most beloved haltered trained pet can turn on you at calving time. Shannon was different she seemed glad of the company and the occasional head rub. As the afternoon wore on she started the second stage of labour. I was rather hoping Max would come home any time soon as he is the one that normally deals with this, normally.
I called him up and gave him the time line of events, he said he would be home soon and to just monitor. I sat with my Veterinary Book for Dairy Farmers, by R Blowey in one hand and camera in the other. (The book has been loaned to me by our vet who said it’s a bit old and based on Dairy but a cow’s a cow. I had asked for some reading material to help broaden my knowledge.)
Her little hoofers had been out for a while and I started to worry. I tried to get hold of Max and now he wasn’t answering. I prayed he was on his way. Adrenalin racing round my veins I decided I would have a look and feel, see if I could do what Max normally does in these situations. I had already got the calving ropes and lube ready for when he come home just in case. As I got closer I could see her nose and tongue poking out. Without thinking it all through properly, heart racing, I attached the calving ropes and tried to recall all the info I had read in the books and all the things I had seen Max do. The most important thing I remember reading is that lubrication is key. So after attaching the ropes I squidged some lube and tried to gentle stretch her slightly hoping it would free the head up. Shannon was just brilliant. At this point she lay down, so more lube and with each push I applied a little pressure to the ropes. Finally her head popped out. I scrambled up and tried to get hold of Max again but with gloop everywhere this wasn’t happening. Back to the floor, I gave her one more squidge of lube and waited for the next push, nothing happened. So again I waited and as she pushed, I pulled. Very quickly I found myself lying by the side of my little girl Shannon, with her little girl flopped on top of me. What a mess! I then checked her to see if she was breathing and then somehow managed to get her flopped up to her mum’s face so she could commence licking and cleaning her. Shannon set to work immediately cleaning the little thing in front of her and I scrambled to my feet and decided to get out of the pen quick, just in case. Still slightly in shock at what at just happened I tried to get hold of Max again. Finally he answered. He apologised and asked what was happening, he was just leaving… I rather proudly told him that I had just calved our first heifer’s first heifer and that so far mum and calf looked like they were doing just ok.
What a night. It couldn’t have been a more surreal few minutes. The photo above is of Shirley II as Shannon had got up and started to clean her up. I am still in awe of every moment I get to see a new life come into the world and to actually have a hand in it too was incredible. Once I had started to help it was too late, I had commmited. Did I do the right thing by intervening? Well, I spoke to a vet sometime after and she said she’s alive so it worked! Didn’t exactly fill me with confidence but she was right. I intervened and it worked. And how fabulous, the cycle completed with a little girl. The first cow we bought, Shirley’s first calf with us, Shannon’s first little calf of her own, Shirley II.
««   ∞   »»