Yesterday was bright and sunny. Early in the morning as I went into the barn to release the four animals we keep in at night -- Matilda and her heifer calf Amy, and Polly and her yearling calf Chuck -- I was greeted with this sight:
Amy was in late-stage labor. I knew her time was close -- her udder had been bagging up -- which is one of the reasons I wanted to keep her in the barn at night.
So the fact that she was having her calf didn't surprise me. What DID surprise me was the calf's position -- the back legs were emerging first. This was all wrong.
I don't know if this is what's termed "breach," but one thing was certain: calves aren't supposed to be born this way.
I slammed around, yanking the other livestock out of the barn and into the driveway to give Amy room. I threw hay into the feeders at maximum speed to feed the rest of the herd. Then I sped back to the barn and saw, to my surprise, that Amy had already dropped the calf (I honestly expected to have to pull it). But the calf had slithered down a small embankment under the barn door into the mud outside (and we're still in the stage where it's DEEP mud).
I ran into the house, threw on boots, ran back to the barn, and scooped up the wet calf. His -- for yes, it's a boy -- right front leg was bent funny and I worried it was broken.
Amy got right to work cleaning him off.
Our friend GG named him Hector, after a character in The Iliad.
It took Hector an unusually long time to try standing, and I was anxious because I wasn't sure about that leg.
Of course he did the usual baby crash-and-burn as he wobbled to his feet, but thankfully his leg wasn't broken.
A little dirty on the face, but isn't he beautiful?
The rest of the herd knew something was up, and milled about the muddy corral, bellowing for an answer.
Amy rested for awhile after her ordeal, but not for long. She still hadn't passed the placenta, and I'm sure she was cramping.
The chickens came in to peck at anything they could...
...but Amy, still hormonally deranged, chased them away.
At long last Amy passed the placenta...
...which she then proceeded to eat. It's a revolting thing to watch, but it's very instinctive for cows, doubtless a survival strategy.
Amy is very loving and attentive. Sometimes she would just lay there...
...and stare at her first-born, as if unable to believe he was real.
No question about it, he's darling.
The hours went by and little Hector got stronger on his feet.
But as the afternoon wore on, gradually we noticed something was wrong with little Hector.
First, it seemed his front legs were unnaturally bent, but we hoped it was merely a result of his traumatic birth and would eventually straighten out. In fact, this has been the case and his legs are nice and straight now.
Second, and far more serious, Hector isn't nursing. It's not that Amy isn't making herself available, or that he can't reach the udder. It's just that he shows absolutely no interest in nursing.
So Don and I defrosted some of the first-day colostrum we had frozen from when Amy herself was born, when Matilda's udder was so massive that little Amy couldn't nurse. We had that life-giving stuff poised and waiting for when we needed it -- and how grateful I am for that.
Starting yesterday afternoon, we heated the colostrum to body temperature, straddled the calf, and forced the nipple into his mouth. Unlike when Amy suddenly "got it," little Hector has shown very little initiative or interest in nourishment.
Over the last 36 hours, I've managed to get perhaps a pint and a half into him, a few ounces at a time, but it's a struggle. Not that Hector himself is struggling -- in fact, he's quite passive -- but it's a struggle to get him to swallow anything.
Perhaps the breach birth has left this little boy brain-damaged... I don't know. I do know that, while he gets on his feet and moves around, he shows no interest in Amy's udder or the bottle. Nor does he have any of the happy little skippy-hops of a healthy newborn.
At this point I would say his prospects are not very good.
In contrast to yesterday, today it poured buckets the blessed day long. Amy was restless, being cooped up, but of course we weren't about to release a sick little baby into the muck and mire and downpour. I cleaned the barn around them and made sure he was as warm and comfortable as possible. Amy continues to be attentive to her little son.
So I'm not giving up. I'm stubborn. As long as Hector allows me to get some nourishment into him, I'll keep trying.