I’ve waited to the last minute to post this, hoping I could report that the big event has happened. A calf is born!
That’s right, after three years, here I am again, pacing like an expectant farmer in the waiting room set aside for those who own pregnant cows. June is ready to drop her calf.
It wasn’t long after I started this blog some three years ago that my then-cow Elsie presented me with a little heifer, Hannah. I was so excited! A heifer! I was looking forward to having two milk cows and expanding my infinitesimal cheese empire to something slightly less infinitesimal. Then disaster struck. Elsie refused to wean Hannah, and Hannah wasn’t giving up those teats for hell or high water. Finally, after listening to the two of them call for each other every day for three months, I sold them to my friend Becki, a dairywoman with 25 years experience. I was somewhat gratified when she also failed to wean Hannah. It wasn’t me! Those two were just unbelievably bonded. In the end, she had to sell Elsie,because the minute she let the two of them together, Hannah was trying to suckle…even after she had her own calf!
Since then, I’ve discovered that there are plastic weaning rings for calves. They’ve got a spring-like ring that fits into their nose and a plastic paddle that will fall in place in front of their mouths when they stretch their necks upward, the way they do when they’re nursing. However, when they put their heads down to graze, the paddle falls forward, out of the way of their mouths. That way moms and babies don’t have to be separated while weaning and the babies naturally gravitate to only grass. What I’m really hoping is that June will turn out to be like Brighty, my first cow. Brighty did her obligatory three months of nursing, then kicked the baby off with a, “Okay kid, you’re on your own now.”
If I had been more alert when I was told June would deliver in September, I’d have looked up the date for September’s full moon. That’s the Harvest Moon, if you’ve ever wondered, and it happens to be today. For some reason, four-footers like to deliver on the full moon. Maybe this is because the night sky is bright enough that the new moms can see the predators coming. Of course, the reverse is also true, that the predators can better see the babies. Whatever the reason, it seems that a full moon mean birthing.
I did fret over whether June was pregnant at first. She’d been here about two weeks when she spent a day bellowing. To me, it sounded like a cow in heat. I counted 22 days from that one and marked it in the calendar. Cows have a standard fertility cycle, just like humans, but just like humans each one is unique. Day 22 passed, then day 23, and, just as I was breathing in relief, on day 24 she spent the day bellowing again. Yikes! That was well within the norm for a not-pregnant cow.
I ordered an AI stick for August, but once the month got going, so did she. As that 24th day rolled around, she’d expanded like a balloon, both her belly and her udder, and had begun to waddle. Yep, pregnant.
On the first of September I dug out my free choice mineral setup and laid out all the packages. The theory is that animals’ bodies know what they need and the animals can discern these things by smell. So you offer them a bank of all the minerals they might need and let them pick and choose.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when she picked a mix that was high in calcium. By the second week of the month she’d finished off ten pounds of that stuff. I ordered another 25 pounds. She finished that off today. Half of me is reassured, because she chose this mix and she should only be taking exactly what she needs. The other half is worried. The healthier the cow, the more likely it is that she’ll have Milk Fever when her calf begins to nurse. Milk Fever is the mammalian body cheating itself of calcium in order to produce milk. It happens to humans as well as all other mammals. The problem is that the heart doesn’t work well without calcium.
With a weaker cow, her body will hold onto its calcium, knowing it can’t afford to give it all up. But a cow who’s accustomed to getting all she wants, when she wants it, will let loose, draining it all. But I’m ready for that possibility, too, armed with the staples of my arsenal: apple cider vinegar and Vitamin C powder. I’ve had some unbelievably good experiences using Vitamin C with my animals as a general tonic. As for apple cider vinegar, dosing with ACV changes the body’s pH. When the pH changes, so does everything else. In this case, as has happened in the past for me, it will slow the stripping of calcium.
And how will I know things have gone south with June and Milk Fever is setting in? Well, I won’t wait until she drops, as happened with my cow Dixie–my first experience with Milk Fever. Instead, I’ll be checking hourly to see if her ears have gone cold. Cold ears are a sure sign the heart isn’t working the way it should.
But those are worries for after the baby arrives.Until then, I’m stuck up here in the house, pacing and watching. My fingers are crossed. I’m hoping it’s a spotty little heifer!