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Calving Time

Tags: calving, twins, vets, farm,
Ed called, said we have probably twins coming!
The picture above is a few years old, but they are twins!

We weren't supposed to start calving until January 8th, 2013, but as usual on the farm you never can tell; if there are twins involved then they are often early arrivals. It was around 1:00 pm when Ed called me saying a cow was calving and it was probably twins since she had twins last year, and she was early again.

I got the pail and filled it with hot soapy water, put on my boots and old jacket (calving is usually a dirty job,) and trudged my way to the barn. One nice thing; it was not in the middle of the night and it was not super cold outside, only about -12 Celsius.

When I got to the barn Ed had the cow in the chute already and the long sleeved glove over his sweatshirt. He wore no jacket as it would be too bulky. My job at this point is to hold the not-so-clean tail away from Ed's face, since he usually goes in just past his elbow and at times up to his armpit.

When he went in, he was able to grab a foot and pull it out enough to put a chain around the ankle. I handed the looped chain to Ed and he slipped it over the ankle and tightened it. Then he went in for the other foot.

This is where the trouble started; the foot he found didn't seem to go with the one he had out. He pushed them both back in and tried again. Same result; the cow wasn't too happy with all this going on, but unlike humans, cows are pretty patient, so she just stood quietly, putting up with us.

We worked on her for at least 40 minutes and even got a head out. Ed kept saying the feet were facing the wrong way, as they did not match the angle of the head. When we thought we had the right legs and head Ed would try and pull, and then I would help to pull, but no luck. It just wasn't right. By this time we were pretty sweaty and rapidly getting worn out. I was worried it was taking too long and we were going to lose the calves.

Finally Ed said, “We better call the Vet.” I agreed, and went to the house to call him. I hoped I could get the Vet to come to the house since the stock trailer was at Ed's brother's farm. They share the cattle business which means the stock trailer, baler and such things. Rob, Ed's brother, has the bulls and older cows and we have the heifers and more cows. It usually ends up we calve out around sixty-five calves each year, while Rob gets around forty.

Anyway, back to our story. We were not prepared for calving yet but should have known better. I got Bruce the Vet on the phone and told him we probably had tangled up twins and could he come out to our farm. Bruce said he would, but if a C-section had to be performed, we would need to bring her to the clinic.

When Ed came to the house I told him what Bruce said, so off Ed went to get the stock trailer in case it was needed. By the way, we have had a C-section done in the barn at -35 C. It’s not the greatest thing to do, but that’s another story.

Twenty minutes later, Bruce phoned from the barn to say he was here and needed some fresh, hot, soapy water. I got it ready and was just finding some clean towels when Ed came rushing in and took the pail and towels. I thought, “Good, I don't have to go now, I’d probably just be in the way.”

So, I sat in the house and waited. I just wanted to hear good news.

To make a long story short, even the veterinarian had a heck of a time untangling all those legs and heads, but finally he got them out, with Ed helping. Both calves came out alive, and got breathing quickly. As is so often the case, one was weaker then the other. After putting them under the heat lamp, Ed brought the mom in and she went to work licking and cleaning them up. She is a good mom and even made the mamma noises.

The twin boys didn't need much help from Ed, all he had to do was get the weaker one to suck a couple of times and he was off, fighting with his brother the way he did when coming out of his mom.

One of the cutest things I have seen twins do is, when trying to get on the same nipple, they end up sucking on each other's face. It looks like they are kissing. And of course I never have a camera handy.

January 1, 2013

So, here we are still recovering from the twins; I had some sore muscles from pulling and just plain tired from all the excitement. When Ed came in from the morning chores he said another cow was getting started and this one had a history of being a lazy calver just like her mom. I thought, “Oh joy!“

Ed had put her in the calving section of the barn. This area has the heat lamps and cameras so he could see her progress from the comfort of our house and the 50 inch TV. By 10:30 there was still no progress, Ed said he would wait one more hour and then we better go in and have a look see. She had twins two years before and she was about nine days early now. So I made an early lunch, thinking you never know what would be happening, and we probably would need our strength. And as it turned out, I was so right.

We went out around 11:30 am with our hot water and gear. Ed put her in the shut with no problem; I have to say she is easy to work with, an older girl about 10 years old.

After Ed had a look inside, he found a leg and pulled it forward, then went in for the other one. A lot of dark fluid came out, and I didn't think that was good. It was just too brown to be blood, and it was sort of jelly-like in texture. We kept on working and after a lot of effort, pulling and pulling and pulling, Ed had the two feet out and the head. The thing was, we could not get the calf out, even though the worst was over. Once the head is through the birth canal, usually the rest of the calf slides out easily, unless you get a hip lock. This didn't seem to be the case in this
situation, though. So we finally gave up. We didn't want to hurt the cow or calf by getting out the calf puller and forcing the issue.

So I trudged back to the house, pretty worn out by then, and called the Vet. This time I got a girl and told her my name, and that we had a cow with tangled twins. That is what we thought at the time, but we were wrong, as it turned out. I said we would bring her in and be there in twenty minutes. Then I went back outside Ed already had her loaded and ready to go.

We got to the vet clinic and I helped Ed back up to the door for big animals. She didn't want to go in, so Ed had to push her and bend her tail. This usually does the trick. She went into the shut and Rianne, the Vet on duty, locked it. Then she went to work. I held the tail while Ed helped with the pulling. No matter how much lubricant and pulling went on, the calf would not come out. She just couldn't figure it out, but something was wrong, there was no doubt about that. The calf was alive as they worked.

Finally, she called Bruce. He has many more years of experience. Ed had mentioned earlier that maybe the belly was enlarged, as he had seen that rare condition before. And wouldn't you know it, when Bruce showed up and looked at the way the calf was out with the head and legs, this is what he thought it probably was. This condition even has a name. By this time, I had enough of watching the poor calf and cow and went to the front area to wait. I knew I wasn't needed, anyway, and it looked like it was not going to be a good outcome, so I didn't want to be there.

It took about an hour. I heard the cow cry out, and cows don't do that unless there is a lot of pain. I was pretty shaken up by all this. When I finally went to the back, it was over and the calf was out, and they were sewing the cow up. They had to go in from the side to cut the belly of the calf, and after the fluid went out, the calf slid out the back end pretty easily.

Because the cow was down, and its always much harder to sew up all the muscles and skin when they are not standing up. The two vets had their work cut out for them. She got some pain killer and antibiotics and we waited for her to get enough strength to get up.

By this time it was around 4:00 pm. We couldn't get her to stand up so we decided to go home and they would let us know when we could get her. Ed unhitched the trailer and we went home. We were both sad and very tired by all the effort and stress.

I got a phone call around 9:00 pm and Rianne said she still wasn't up, but looked a lot perkier and could we pick her up around nine in the morning. So it was arranged. 

January 2, 2013

We got up early, knowing that we needed to get the chores done and get to town to pick up the cow. At the time we didn't know if she was alive or not. Ed went out after breakfast with his cell and I started to get ready to go to town.

As I was getting ready, the phone rang. It was Ed, he told me he had found a calf born in a snowbank and to come into the field with the truck. Also, he said to bring a shovel in case we got stuck in the field, since it had been snowing and blowing overnight. Ed had tried to get two expecting cows into the maternity area the night before, but they weren't having it and he wasn't up to chasing them all over the field by foot in the dark. And wouldn't you know it, one of them had to calve that morning.

So off I went, dragging my tired buns looking for the shovel. I finally found one in the barn. Then I opened the gates and started driving into the field, trying to keep on the track that the cows had been making. There were a lot of snow drifts and it was hard for me to see the track at times. I put the truck in four wheel drive and kept going.

I found Ed walking towards me and I made sure I didn't run him over. I stopped and got out and said “You drive the rest of the way.” We drove over to the cows and I had the blanket ready on my lap. Ed put the poor calf on me and I held her as we went back to the house. She was bawling and felt cold and stiff.

Ed carried her into the house and laid her onto a small carpet, while I got out the heating pads and towels. We put a pad under her belly and another one across her back. Then I got to rubbing her legs, ears, and tail. Amazingly, her ears and tail were not frozen. The temperature outside was around – 10 C that morning, and she had obviously not been out more then an hour. But it was long enough to get chilled down.

Ed left me at 9 am so he could get the cow from the clinic. They needed the space in case there was any emergency. I was busy all morning, drying and warming the calf with heat pads, and talking to her. She was weak but she did respond to my voice. Whenever I left her to get another towel, she would call out and then she would quiet down when I talked to her.

When Ed got home around 1:00 pm with the cow I was told what had happened. She hadn't gotten up at the clinic so they had to pull her out of the building. It took four guys to do it as she is about 1400 pounds. They got a forklift from the nearby John Deere dealership and put her in the trailer that way. Ed left her to rest when he got home.

After lunch, he went back out and she had gotten up, but when she was getting out of the trailer she slipped and fell. She did not get up, so that is where she stayed for the rest of the day. Ed gave her water and she was right beside a big round bale of hay so she had plenty to eat. Then he covered her with a warm wool quilt. The Vet said he didn't think she had a pinched nerve so should get up. But the pulling and lifting and falling sure didn't do anything for her with the major surgery.

Meanwhile, at 2:00 pm I tubed the calf with colostrum and Ed then took her to the barn and put her under a heat lamp. She was nice and warm by then, but weak. She couldn't stand on her own. Her mom just sniffed her and walked away. They were only apart for about six hours but the mom was acting like they were strangers. At chore time that night Ed held the calf up and she had a good suck. Things improved steadily from then on. The mom, while not too loving at first, came around slowly, even ended up making the mamma noises.

One step at a time, it’s the only way to handle these situations. Boy, I was so tired and sore. I hoped things would get better from then on; it was not a great way to start the calving season. The last two years we didn't use a Vet once, and this year look at us!

As I write this, the downed cow seems to be getting up for short periods of time, which is good. We haven't actually seen her move, but she is in different places when Ed goes to the barn. And we had another calf at noon today, the 3rd of January. This one was normal and needed no help whatsoever. So, hopefully things will be smoother now.

By the way, these four days were not, by any means, normal. We usually have smooth sailing with calving, with the occasional hiccup in between. Four calves down and only sixty-one more to go!

January 5 th , 2013

Update on the down cow;

Ed finally saw the cow up and walking, and tried to put one of the twins on her. A freshened cow usually has a lot of milk and a twin would do so much better without having to share. But, it looks like she and the calf won't take to each other. Not surprising. And by now her milk supply is well on the way to drying up.

And I have to tell you, what this story tells is not the norm. Cows usually calve 95 % of the time on their own. Ed just likes to keep an eye on how things are going, just in case there is trouble.

Wish us luck for the rest of the calving season! We'll probably need it!

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