Moxie calved in the very earliest hours of the last day of June. She had a pretty little heifer calf, whom I’ve named June Bug.
It was the strangest calving I’ve ever had on the farm. Last year, when she gave birth to her first calf, Moxie’s udder was so tight she sprayed milk from her teats with every step. Standing in one place, she dripped.
Now I was watching for that. On Sunday morning, Moxie came into the barn for breakfast as usual from the barn paddock. Her udder was a swollen balloon, swaying from side to side, but not yet dripping.
“When are you going to have that calf, girl?” I inquired cheerfully as I poured her grain into her manger.
I checked Moxie several times over the day but she seemed content to stand in the dark of her stall, out of the sun and flies.
At evening chores I let everyone out to graze in the south pasture. Moxie stood at the fence, not eating. It’s going to be soon, I thought to myself.
After dinner I returned to the farm for another check. Moxie was still standing motionless at the fenceline in the dusk. My yearling bull, Henry, appeared to be overwhelmed with excitement. He mounted her repeatedly. My dear old cow Katika was so much larger that when she lost patience with such shenanigans she’d drive any young bull away. Moxie does not have that height and weight advantage.
I figured there must be pre-birth pheremones in the air and that she needed some enforced privacy. I brought all the stock back into the barn and shut Henry firmly in his stall at the far end of the barn.
Now it was Moxie’s turn to appear unhinged. She pressed her head against her stall gate, bellowing. I couldn’t understand it. What did she want?
To get out, evidently.
I was perplexed. I had never had a cow act this way.
Finally I gave up. I let Moxie out the back door of the barn into the barn paddock. Since by now all the rest of the herd was also roaring and bellowing, I let them out, too. Cattle have been giving birth in herds for thousands of years, I reminded myself.
Five minutes later, I was locking the gate after Birch when I glanced out through the gloom and saw a little calf nursing at Moxie’s side.
Oh my goodness. Clearly Moxie had given birth in the very early hours of the morning and hidden the calf. Somehow a buttermilk-colored cow had managed to do this without splashing a speck of blood anywhere on her body. The calf had stayed concealed in the weeds of the barn paddock all day. Now, presto! Instant baby.
The next hour was busy as I brought all the cattle back into the barn — being especially careful with my over-excited, bellowing bull — and chivvying Moxie and her wobbly calf up the slope and into the aisle. It is dangerous to get between a new calf and its mother. Though I picked up and carried all of Katika’s calves, even with Katika, so tame and trusting, I was always cautious. Now for Moxie I kept up a running babble of reassurance.
I dipped the calf’s umbilical in iodine and milked out a gallon of colostrum to relieve the pressure on Moxie’s udder. Though the calving experience felt faintly surreal, from a health perspective everything was fine.
Junie is the first purebred Jersey heifer born at Fairhope Farm. (Katika’s calves were 3/4 Jersey, but they always took on her coloring: born burned-chocolate and turning black before six months. My heifer Dorrie, far left, below, is Katika’s last calf.)
Lucy and I drove downstate yesterday but here is the thundering herd looking hopefully for breakfast before I left.