Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Calf is Born!

I’ve been absent from blogging for a little while. I think I treated Buttercup’s end of pregnancy like I’ve treated my two pregnancies – I went into numb seclusion and had the attitude of: let’s just not talk.

I was so excited in my own way, but didn’t want to make too many assumptions about how wonderful it would be. Would she have ketosis or milk fever? Would she be a good mom or reject her calf? Would the calf be strong, eager to eat, or be weak?

Jerseys are supposed to be at particular risk for milk fever. And I was hoping that we had balanced her nutrition properly for a healthy calf and mom and safe calving.

Well – it happened! And everything went generally well! Here's the story:

Joel and I sleepily got out of bed and started getting ready for church. We both had showers, and we started to get the kids ready. I mentioned I was getting a little too exhausted lately and needed to get more rest. I can tell when my body is at risk for sickness, and this was one of those times.

We had let Norway and Buttercup sleep in the shed for the past couple weeks. At around 7:20 am when everyone was ready for church, we started to hear a low moo. It wasn’t angry, or in pain, or anything we had heard before. Just a short moan like moo. Norway was standing on the inside of the door and just looking at something. I quickly suggested that Buttercup may have had her calf, not really expecting it to have happened. Joel went out to check on them. At first, Joel's face looked normal and I figured nothing had happened, but then he turned and gave a thumbs up and the excitement hit.

I jumped off the porch into the winter pasture and went over. Norway was kicked out.

I freaked when Buttercup wasn’t immediately turning around to get to the calf. When I say immediately, I mean .2 seconds. I may have been expecting a lot of her. I told Joel we had to get her to lick the baby, but she was already starting to get up and get to the baby. She definitely looked weak and stumbled to her feet, but the floor was soaked and slippery, and I guess she did just have a baby.

Of course, I had intended to pick up shavings the day before, but didn’t, so with my nerves and freaking out about her weak legs being a sign of milk fever, I left Joel with instructions for molasses water and a calcium drench (for milk fever) if his judgment thought she was weak in any way. I went to the store. I called my cow friend to see if we could borrow some fresh hay and get her opinion on the morning’s happenings. Yes… I couldn’t find any hay either!! I had called three hay guys the day before and they were all out. The round bale had a few more days on it, but it was in a spot that Buttercup couldn’t get to now that she had calved. Since I couldn't find hay locally, I had planned to buy square bales from the grain store on Monday for a crazy price and stock up until we could get more round bales this Saturday.

When the hardware store opened I was the second one in and paid for 4 bags of shavings. I drove the 4 minutes home and when I got back, 40 minutes had passed from when she calved. We cleaned out the shed and spread the fresh shavings. She was still giving the short moos so the calf would know her. She’s generally such a quiet girl, it’s been funny to watch her personality change.

The calf got on his feet as soon as the fresh shavings were down. He started wandering around and licking the walls of the shed. When Buttercup’s efforts weren’t paying off, we started nudging him in the right direction. It still wasn’t sufficient because while Buttercup wasn’t kicking us out, she had rather take care of the calf herself and as soon as the little guy got close to successfully latching on with our help, Buttercup would move a little. I’m thankful she wasn’t violent or trying to push us away. Joel ended up holding Buttercup still and I helped the calf find the teats. After so many attempts on his own, he was tired and wanted to lie down. I ended up holding him up enough so that he could get a good drink, which he did! Finally, maybe 5-10 minutes of productive sucking.

We let him rest and hoped he would find the teats again when he was hungry in a little while. Joel and I took turns noticing when we thought it was time for the calf to be getting another drink… so we helped the calf get in the right spot. At about 2 hours, I figured he just didn’t have an appetite for the milk because he had had a lot when we helped him – so we waited. He was jumping around, spunky and happy. His coat was shiny and lovely. I knew forcing him to eat could be like the nurses waking up your baby in the hospital and telling you you need to feed them more – obnoxious and unnecessary most of the time. But I allowed this to be the exception because we were nervous about his slow start and wanted to make sure he got enough colostrum. It is very important that the calf get colostrum within the first hour. Ideally, on his own. Since he hadn’t proven that he had the ability to get milk on his own, I was nervous that even if he was starving, he wouldn’t know how to find the teats.

Shiny. So sweet.

We gave Buttercup a good cleaning and rub mid morning to get her more comfortable. She appreciated the attention and was happy to just keep licking the calf. We dipped the calf’s navel in iodine to prevent infection and we milked a little colostrum off Buttercup because she was dripping and seemed uncomfortably full. Our friend had come to drop off the hay and was assuring us that the pair were most likely fine.

Buttercup passed the placenta and turned right around to eat it. As disgusting as some of you might find this, it didn’t bother me… and then it did. I’d say that happened about the time when she was mooing and it sounded like she was mooing under water. Her mouth was so full… Sorry guys. BUT. I was so happy she was eating it. The placenta has tons of vitamins and good stuff for the cow (that was scientific) and it showed a good instinct in Buttercup and assured me that she would have one more thing going for her. Cleaning up like this is also how the cow protects the calf from predators. This way there isn’t any fresh blood smell to attract animals that could kill the calf.

I started to feel a bit more relieved and it started to just seem fun. Norway was acting fine over in his pasture and Buttercup was being good. We went inside, made lunch, and planned nap time. Joel went out to check on them and the calf was up and eating just fine on his own. We had chicken, spinach, and potatoes, cleaned up and went to bed. We were out cold for 20 minutes and then…

To be Continued.

Oh, yes I did. It’s a long post. Rest assured, the continuation is not going to say the calf or Buttercup got ill or sick. They have remained perfectly healthy and a whole lot of fun. In fact, the continuation strays from being about Buttercup and the new calf - so I thought it fitting to give it it's own post. You'll have to wait to find out what woke us up and ruined our nap time… and had us working into the night.

Goodbye for now!


  1. I'm so glad that things are going well so far! I can't imagine the stress that comes along with overseeing the birth of a calf, and the worries about the mama cow. So glad Buttercup is doing great!

    1. It really was crazy this first time. I hope new ones are less crazy. I guess now I have something to gauge all others against. She is really doing great!

  2. Aww... so cool about the calf being born. I didn't really need to know the placenta thing though. Too much for this non-farming gal. :)

  3. Lol. I knew that some people wouldn't care to read that part... but I want to chronicle all those details. It can be really important for Buttercup to have those instincts and nutrients. :-) And I guess I'm just used to all that stuff now.




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