Dorrie gave birth to a healthy heifer calf around 6:45 PM last night, five days early. As Dorrie was named for Dora the Explorer by a three-year-old, I have named the new calf Elsa, after the character in Frozen. I am sure that will please the same child, now six.
I suspected it might be the day when I saw Dorrie’s udder yesterday morning. Overnight it had ballooned to enormous proportions. I turned the cattle out and was reassured when Dorrie put her head down to eat hay with the gang as usual. Still, I checked her between drives to have my truck serviced. By evening chores I could tell I didn’t have much time. Dorrie was standing at the fenceline, with the young bull at her flank.
Teenaged boys are often a problem at calvings. The pheromones in the air drive them crazy and the poor laboring girl can be besieged by adolescent thugs hoping for a quickie. I once had a bullock attempt sex with a cow lying semi-comatose from milk fever after giving birth. (Nothing surprises you about the male gender if you hang around a barnyard long enough.)
I mucked the barn quickly, spread fresh bedding, and called everyone in. All the cattle rushed to their suppers except Dorrie, who under normal circumstances is always first at the gate. Now she lay in the run-in shelter, clearly in labor.
Oh dear. Sixty-pound calves feel heavier to carry these days. It would be much better if Dorrie gave birth in the barn.
I walked out to her. “Hello, girl. Let’s go inside.”
Dorrie struggled to her feet and for the first time seemed to notice that she was all alone. She hurried at a fast waddle, bag swaying, to the barn.
By the time she was in her stall, the four yearling boys had cleaned up their grain. Now they remembered the sex in the air. They bellowed and shrieked in excitement, riding each other, knocking into water buckets, and generally having a frat party. I was glad of the solid rough-cut 2×6 board walls.
Dorrie lay down, mooing softly to herself with labor pains. I leaned on her gate, watching, for a while, and then decided to run home for a quick supper of cold chicken and grape tomatoes.
When I returned half an hour later, the calf had just slid out. Dorrie was torn between her instinct to lick the calf and her instinct to clean up all sign of the delivery, to foil predators. As her soaked calf shivered in the cold, Dorrie was distracted by housekeeping.
But I was on hand to help with both. I pitched out the wet and bloody bedding, spread dry hay, and rubbed the calf with towels. I dipped the navel in iodine. I gave Dorrie a snack of grain and a restorative bucket of molasses water.
Then it was time for the first warm meal. I’ve done it so many times and I never tire of it — holding a damp calf between my knees, guiding it to the teat, the big black cow murmuring, reaching back to lick the calf and occasionally in her enthusiasm licking the seat of my coveralls.
Elsa was strong and quick to latch on (see top photo). After she was mostly dry and had a little colostrum in her belly, I left her shivering in her mother’s care…
… and went to grab a calf coat. I bought two of these insulated jackets last year after one of my calves was painfully injured by baling twine on a homemade one. Never again.
Dorrie seemed a bit surprised to see her new daughter wearing a snowsuit, but she accepted it equably. I guided Elsa to the teat again and then went home for an hour.
When I returned for a last check, Dorrie had passed her afterbirth and was attempting to eat it. This is quite normal and, again, instinctive.
However watching her attempt to ingest a three-foot length of meat and slime, I thought I’d relieve her of that chore, also. I cleaned up the stall again, removing it.
I encouraged Elsa to nurse once more, but she was not interested. Her mother sank down for a rest and Elsa explored.
When I snapped off the barn lights for the night, Elsa was quietly nestled in her mother’s dinner hay.