I wrote most of this post December 16, 2018. I’m not sure what else happened that day, but then life rolled over me. Now I can finish it.
When I walked back to the barn yesterday morning after posting here, I discovered the calf had just been born. Wonderful Moxie, choosing our single warm (15°) day! (You can see my black wool hat resting on the rail behind Moxie’s head. I had taken it off when I broke a sweat as I toweled the calf, dipped her navel, and tried to get her to nurse.)
The calf is a heifer. Though 3/4 Jersey and 1/4 milking shorthorn, she is red like her father. As she is a Christmas calf, and red, I called her Holly Berry, Holly for short. (I posted her picture on Facebook and got many congratulations on the “clever” name. I finally realized people thought I was playing on the name Halle Berry. It had not occurred to me. I am far more knowledgeable about Ilex than about modern actresses.)
Once dry, Holly needed some milk. I have started many a calf nursing. Newborn calves are as clueless as any babies — the only difference is that they are bigger. I have been bashed in the face more times than I can count by a confused calf throwing up his head in protest. So I was sweating, squirting milk on my fingers to make them enticing, letting Holly suck on my fingers as I drew her toward the teat… but nothing. Moxie’s udder has dropped so low that Holly did not recognize the teat below knee level as a potential food source.
I ate a quick breakfast and returned to the barn with a calf bottle. I milked Moxie into it and fed Holly a pint. In the photo I’m holding the bottle between my knees to give her neck the proper angle so the milk drops in the correct one of four stomachs.
(Notice the spikes on my boots. DH bought us mini-crampons for the driveway late last winter, after both of us had wiped out in bad falls. I keep mine on my barn boots for the entire winter and feel much safer.)
While I fed Holly, Moxie munched doggedly on the afterbirth. I let her have a bit but then took the rest and put it on the compost pile.
I tried last year’s trick of using a girth and stirrup leather as a sling around Moxie’s midsection to hoist her udder higher. This year it had zero effect. it was like trying to hoist a boulder. Milking her would not work, either. Moxie’s rear teats are very short. With edema they become like buttons on a hot beach ball.
Since I couldn’t lift her udder, I decided to build a platform to lift Moxie herself. Luckily I had a couple of extra 6x6s left over from the house. I dug them out of the snow and brought them to the barn. I also collected all the cut-off ends that I had lying around (one always finds a use for a chunk of 6×6), and an old piece of plywood from the garage.
Back in 2009, Allen had helped me trim a rubber mat to cover the dirt floor in front of the stanchion. I peeled it back, talking to him in my mind.
I laid out all the 6x6s and leftover chunks.
The dirt floor had a slope but I did not worry about it. I scraped the frozen ground outside for a bit of dirt to build up the worst spots, and then called it good. Next I laid out my scrap of 5/8″ plywood and cut it to width. I measured nothing. I screwed the plywood to all the 6x6s.
Next I took the cut off piece and cut a small panel to fit around the post at the doorway. I realized at this point that my platform was not square, but — “custom cutting will take care of it,” I told myself.
Huffing and blowing, I rolled the very heavy, awkward stall mat back on top of the platform. The cuts Allen and I had made in 2009 still fit around the post. Using a jigsaw, I cut off the extra foot of width.
I threw some bedding hay on top, to make it look less unusual. Using a long line, I coaxed a suspicious Moxie toward the grain in the stanchion. After her head was in the catch, I leaned my back against her hindquarters and pushed. “Over, Mox. Over and up!”
She obligingly stepped up. Holly staggered over. Mama’s udder was now seven inches higher. This is more like it! Holly latched on. Success!
I love when problem-solving leads to a happy ending.
My only worries now were milk fever and ketosis. I checked Moxie carefully through the night for three days. She was fine; when I rolled open the barn door and snapped on the lights, she would lift her big dark eyes to look at me calmly. Yay!