Last night at my 3:30 am check, the temperature was negative 21 degrees, with very little wind. All the cows were covered in a thin layer of frost. Their eyes shone in my spotlight just like the hundreds of stars above me. Their whiskers (yes, cows have whiskers) were all white and shimmery. As I tip-toed through the herd, I basically begged them not to calve. It was SO COLD. I sneezed in my glove, and the moisture caused it to freeze to the gate handle.
Tonight is not supposed to be as cold. We brought in the cows from the cow meadow and sorted off 35 head as heavies. We sorted on foot because of the ice, yet brought them in by horseback.
We joined them with the rest of the heavies in the calving lot and put them all in the horse corrals where we have a large yard light . My father in law took a bale that was a couple years old of rushes (course wetland grasses) and spread it around the corral to provide them some bedding that was dry and warmer than the snow packed ground. Cows don’t really like rushes, especially old ones, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, ranching law says they have to eat them. Despite having plenty of good hay today, they ate half their bedding. Spreading the bale around also encouraged them to sleep more spread out making them easier to check than when they’re bunched up.
The cow we put in the cow barn last night didn’t calve. She was lucky to be inside for the night although I’m sure she would had rather been out in the herd. Morning light brought 12 degrees and sunshine with clear skies warming up to non-fur hat weather. By noon one heifer had calved along with the first cow of calving season.
I was going to talk about the second stage of parturition. I did not happen to get pictures of the two that calved this morning, so I will be using a couple pictures from late last spring (I was gone to tend to my chickens at our house).
In the second stage, the cow actually gives birth. First the water sac breaks:
If all is going well the head and feet enter the birth canal. When we see this we’re looking for two things:
The size of the feet (mostly with heifers) to make sure she can deliver the calf
That the two feet are palms down (meaning the calf is in the right position)
The head should be there as well, as if the calf is “diving” out.
Usually the cow will start this process standing up as pictured, then lay down. Laying down is the most natural way for a cow to calve although they will calve standing up.
I’m sorry if the pictures may be a little graphic. Birth is a graphic thing. But I think that life entering the world is a beautiful thing. Every time I see a successful birth where cow and calf are healthy it is a beautiful thing.