‘This black cow is acting weird. As I watched, the cow stood up, circled, then lay back down. Thrice! She can’t seem to get comfortable,” said Kathy, who had taken a break from cleaning our Airbnb apartment to look at the new white calf I had just purchased when she noticed the commotion. of the cow. “I think you should take a look. She could be in labor,” she added.
Most of the time my cows give birth without assistance, but not always. Once I found a cow in labor lying on its side, struggling. When I checked, the calf was correctly positioned; the head between its front legs in the birth canal. What should have been an easy birth was not. I attached straps to the front calf feet, and even with my husband Bruce and I pulling, the calf wouldn’t move. Then I attached the straps to the back of the ATV, walked forward, and gently pulled the calf. The calf, a male, was dead and had probably died a few hours earlier, but the cow was alive. The big calf inside a little mother was a deadly combination.
Unfortunately, prolonged labor and the extraction of the stillborn calf prevented the cow from getting up. To ease the pain, I gave her a shot or two of Banamine, offered her some water – she drank five gallons – and waited. Eventually she got up and we guided her to the paddock to recover. The next day she was fully recovered, ready and eager to return to the herd.
Of the hundreds of births on the farm, I only had to help a dozen times. I wondered if today was going to be one of those times. The cow, which I had named Naomi, was lying in a pile of hay, giving birth. She had a tear in her vulva which the vet said could complicate a delivery. Not wanting to lose mother or baby, I called the vet Molly. She said she would be there in an hour.
Bruce and farm helper David were on hand to move the cow to the pen, which would be a temporary maternity ward. Then Kathy asked how the cow was doing.
“She is in labor. I called a vet,” I said.
“You called a vet! I thought your superpower helped cows give birth,” Kathy said.
“You have great faith in me, but my real superpower is being ready to call the vet,” I said.
While I waited for Holly to arrive, I located the lube, gloves, and calf puller, just in case. A calf puller is a gadget with a splint that hugs the cow’s buttocks and has chains to attach to the calf’s front legs. Then the farmer turns a crank to let the calf out. With the gear ready, I returned to see Naomi.
There she was licking her newborn heifer. I called the vet and summoned Bruce and David to admire the calf. What a happy time for Buttercup! (That’s her name.) I didn’t film the birth, but I recorded her first steps. You can see them on our website at: milessmithfarm.com/blog/buttercup-the-calf-is-born.
Thanks, Mary Pelkey and Mary Conly, for the names of Naomi and Buttercup. Every cow on our farm needs a name, and it’s getting harder and harder to imagine them. We have more calves to come, so help me out and send me more names. Meanwhile, stop by the farm during store hours Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to see Buttercup and his five siblings.
Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm (milessmithfarm.com) in Loudon, NH. She raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local produce. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Carole’s Corner is a farming and agricultural chronicle. It airs weekly in the Sunday Your Life section. The author is co-owner of a local farm and is not a staff member of Le Moniteur.