March 8, 2010

upside down

Our lives are a little upside down right now as we try to make some important decisions about the future of our farming. So for now, we’re just breathing.
Oh, and this just happened this morning…
Farmer R had been away for a few days for 2 Organic Agriculture speaking engagements in Canada and left us in charge. All went well and there was even a calf born on our watch…only we didn’t watch. We went to check on the cows just after 1am and there was a new, wet little face. Nate held the flashlight while I dried his ears with a towel to keep them from freezing. His mama did the usual not-so-thrilled grunting but was surprisingly calm. He was still wet and judging by the remnants of the placenta, we knew she had just given birth. We also knew that it was more important that we get out of there and let them bond, than it was to get the rest of him dry. So we left.
The next morning when we went to feed bales the calf looked good and we assumed all was well. He was running around later that day. Farmer R returned that night and asked if we had felt his belly to see if he had nursed. I said that when I last checked he was lying down which made it hard to tell.
When we checked this morning, Farmer R could tell that he had never nursed and that we had better get going if we were going to save it. We needed to get that calf to nurse. The mother and baby have the best chances of nursing successfully within 12 hours of birth. After that, things change and anything goes. It’s now more than 24 hours since birth and mama’s udder is engorged and painful. And she is not cooperating. Her instinct to nurse is now gone and her engorged udder is very painful. But she has to nurse. The calf has been sucking on her brisket (the flappy fur0covered skin that hangs off of mama’s chest) in an effort to find the teats. Obviously, there is no milk there but since he sucked the brisket during the crucial imprinting period, he now thinks that’s where he should nurse. So we had to teach him how to nurse. Mama, however, had a different idea. She was so uncomfortable and so frustrated that she knocked us about for a bit. Miraculously, no one got hurt aside from a cut on Farmer R’s hand from holding the rope to steady her.
We set up some gates to segregate them and Farmer R guided the calf towards the teat. There was more resistance by the mama and she heaved herself over the gates a few times scaring all of us. I fell twice while she was kicking and had to roll away to escape her hoof. I got up close and personal with the calf’s butt in an effort to get him to nurse. As I mentioned in another post, the mama licks the calf’s butt after he’s born to stimulate him to nurse so I had to mimic that action with my hand. It worked. It was touch and go there with an unhappy mama but he nursed enough to save his life and we’ll most likely have to work with him to remind him how to find the teat again.
Before we left things were going really well. Hopefully mom and baby will continue to do well and Nate and I are grateful for the experience.
All that, before breakfast.

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