Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Calving in the Dark

I saw the heifer just before dark, restlessly pacing the fence, obviously looking for a quiet place to calve.  She was just a two-year-old, the weather was unsettled, and I hurried out on the quad to run her into the shed.

It took a lot of turning, backing, and jumping off the 4-wheeler to get her lined out down the fence in the growing darkness.  She kept turning back to check out the other calves in the field, as cows will do in the early stages of labor.

I gave her an hour before I checked on her again.  At 9:30 I filled a jug with warm soapy water and went down to the shed.  The bull that had bred all these heifers was throwing larger calves than expected and I had already pulled eight of them.

There was no moon that night and the flashlight had gone dead.  I groped by the lights of the quad to start the generator – but for some reason the overhead lights were not working either.  I drove the quad into the shed to look at the heifer – there were as yet no signs of active labor.

Shortly after midnight I hunted up another flashlight and went back down to the shed.  I tried the generator again, but the light circuit was still not working.  With a flashlight I inspected the heifer again. Her dim outline suggested that she had calved already, but I could not find a calf in the shed.  Was my diagnosis of impending birth incorrect?

In the morning I checked that heifer again – still no calf.  But in the daylight her profile was clear.  I checked my calving book and found her number – she had calved the day before.

As soon as I let the heifer out of the shed she hurried back into the field bawling for her calf.  I drove around on the quad accounting for all the calves in the field – hers was not there.  Another circle around the perimeter of the field didn’t turn up anything.  I would saddle a horse as soon as I got the big bunch of outside pairs fed.

As I drove through the gate to feed the horses I found the calf.  He had drifted with the wind of the evening before, under the electric wire, across the road, through a barbwire fence, and into the shelter of a pole-pile.  It took only minutes to throw him in the pickup and haul him out to the field where his mother was still earnestly checking out all the other calves.  He was soon sucking happily.

In my haste to beat the nightfall I had jumped to an unwarranted conclusion.  The restless behavior I had interpreted as early labor was in fact an anxious mother looking for her calf who had wandered off.  My multiple trips through the dark to the shed were worse than a waste of time – they were actually the cause of the trouble.

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