Saturday, April 4, 2020

True Detective

Caution – This post contains graphic descriptions that may be offensive to some people.

          About 22 years ago I sent a message to my brother that I had been dating a gal who thought she could make me politically correct.  He messaged back that she should settle for socially acceptable.
          I can’t make any sense out of why most people do what they do.  In fact, I don’t much care what people do.  But I do study the behavior of cattle and horses.

Our calving operation is designed to take advantage of the natural behavior of cattle.  The entire calving field is visible from my kitchen window.  We feed and bed at one end of the field, knowing that two hours after feeding the cattle will break for water.  Most of the cattle will then drift back to the feed and bedding – but those few that are beginning labor will drift to the end of the field away from the rest of the herd, and toward the calving shed.
This evening I noted one cow traveling away from the herd in the suspicious manner of one that is beginning labor.  It was plenty cold, and it would be beneficial to put her in the shed before dark, where her new calf would have a much warmer and drier environment for those first challenging hours of his life.  I fell in behind her.
As I followed her toward the shed, I began my detective work.
Pregnancy in a cow is not obvious as it is in a human.  A cow eats a large amount of course roughage every day, and the volume of that feeding is about as much as the fetus growing inside her.  There is only a subtle difference in the position of her distended rumen higher and to the left versus her distended uterus lower and to the right.
Immediately after calving one can see the reduction on the lower right side; and a cow also goes off feed for the first day, reducing the volume on the upper left side.  So her figure does change quickly – for a day or two.
As I followed this cow, however, her profile was ambiguous.  Her lower right side was not so pronounced, but neither could she be described as gaunt.
As a cow comes within a week or two of calving, her labia become relaxed and swollen.  Her udder begins to fill up
The labia of this cow, however, was not typical of a cow near to term.  Nor was her udder tight and swollen.
There was no accumulation of amniotic fluid on the tail to indicate that she had recently calved. 
As I drew along side of her I could see that in fact two of her teats had been sucked, and the fullness of her udder had been drawn down by a calf.  Why was she leaving the herd in such a determined fashion?
As we rounded the corner of the shed, the answer became apparent.  Her calf was stashed in the brush behind the shed – as far as it could get from the rest of the herd.
All those signs immediately added up.  She had calved a couple of days before, and hence her labia were healing and returning to normal.  She had just filled up with hay.  She was leaving the feed-grounds to return to her calf.

Mystery solved.  Another case closed in the life of a cowboy.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Hot Box

            We’re right in the middle of calving, and they’re popping out at the rate of about 5 per day.  That’s real nice when the weather is good – but we just got hit with another winter storm.  It was 17 above when I went out this morning for my first check, with another 2” of fresh snow.
            We had put out straw last evening, and the cows were nicely bedded down – except for one.  She had chosen to “socially distance” herself from the crowd, and calved a hundred yards away in a snowbank.
The calf was still pretty fresh at 0600, and I left Mom to finish her job of cleaning him up.  But after I had made coffee and eaten breakfast, I could see from my kitchen window that the calf was still not up and sucking.
A new calf can stand an amazing amount of cold if he is licked off and gets a belly-full of milk.  But that belly-full of milk is essential.  When I went back down, the calf was still lying in the snow, and was now shivering.  I went to the shed for the sled.
I rolled the calf in and started back toward the shed, with the sled at the end of a 25’ rope behind the 4-wheeler.  The mom was very attentive, and followed the calf all the way into the shed.
There I fired up the generator and transferred the calf to the ‘hot box’: a tall plastic affair with a big front door and a slatted floor.  The 220-volt heater blows warm air up through the grate to warm the calf up. 
Left out in the snow, the calf was rapidly becoming hypothermic.  He would quickly use up the meager store of sugar in his bloodstream, and become hypoglycemic as well.  Only an hour before he had been happy and warm inside his mother’s womb.  But he was rudely dumped out in the cold, hard, world, with his source of nutrition abruptly disconnected.
In the meantime, two more cows had calved.  But these two chose the warm straw and the company of the other cows.  Their calves will be fine.

An hour later I pulled the cold calf out of the hotbox, and he was soon filling his belly with fresh warm colostrum.  He’ll be fine.

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