For the last two days, we have been dealing -- nonstop -- with cows. Grab a cup of tea and join us in this looooong post as we seriously contemplate tossing in the towel, jettisoning the livestock, and moving to New Zealand or something.
It all started innocently enough Wednesday morning when we decided to dehorn Pixie. Well, actually, let's go back to Tuesday afternoon, when I noted Lucy, the red heifer on the left, was bagging up.
"Bagging up" means her udder was getting bloated. This indicates the birth of her calf is imminent. I've been keeping an eye on her for this very reason, since it's Lucy's first calf.
Anyway, back to Pixie. We wanted to dehorn her, so we carefully applied the dehorning paste and wrapped her head in duct tape. The tape is to keep the caustic paste from getting on Polly's udder and causing damage. Dehorning in this manner doesn't hurt the calf, but they're severely annoyed by the indignity of the duct tape, and little Pixie spent a lot of time trying to escape the weird bonds.
After that, we decided to return Matilda and her adult calf Amy to the pasture. Elderly Matilda was due any day for her calf, and since I had to bottle-feed Amy at her birth, I wanted to keep Matilda close. Accordingly we shut her and Amy (for company) into the feedlot for a few days, but since nothing was happening we put them back in the pasture.
The pasture is split, and the herd was on the road side; so when they saw Matilda and Amy on the near side, they galloped for the fence, bellowing and milling about in excitement. "Hey! Why are YOU over there and WE'RE over here?"
Or so I thought.
I spent several hours Wednesday afternoon weeding in the garden. I weeded so vigorously, in fact, that I raised an enormous blister on my finger. Wheee. (Yes, I wear gloves; this happened in spite of the canvas.)
Meanwhile the commotion by the fence was getting more and more pronounced, all out of proportion to Matilda and Amy being on the other side of the fence. Turns out it was Lucy, who had just dropped her calf in the farthest corner of the pasture. It is always the farthest corner of the pasture where a cow drops her calf.
The infamous "farthest corner of the pasture" makes it devilishly difficult to bring a calf back to the barn. We like having young calves close (with their mamas, of course) so we can either dehorn (if it's a heifer) or castrate (if it's a bull calf) about a week after birth. But calves are always born at the farthest possible point away, and hauling a 35-lb. wiggly animal a quarter-mile back to the house -- especially with a hormonally-deranged mama ready to take us out, as well as the rest of the herd galloping about in excitement -- is not something we care to do at our age.
Ah, but this time we had a new Secret Weapon.
Several days ago, in anticipation of the number of calves we were certain would be born in the farthest corner of the pasture, Don had a brainstorm. Older Daughter's old bed frame was sitting in the barn, waiting to be transported to the dump...
...when he had the idea to turn it into a calf cage, something secure we could strap to the tractor tines and haul a calf back to the barn. I tell ya, my husband is a genius.
He started the project, but it got pushed aside for a few days by more pressing matters. But when we saw Lucy's calf, he hastily finished it.
One side of this cage lifts up and folds back. We tucked an old horse blanket on the floor.
We lifted the calf cage onto the tractor tines and strapped it on.
Then, while Younger Daughter stood by to handle gate duty, Don slowly drove the tractor to the far corner of the pasture.
Lucy, I was pleased to see, had just dropped the placenta and was engaged in consuming it (gack).
The calf -- it's a boy -- rose unsteadily to his feet as I walked up, which made it super easy for me to scoop him up...
...and gently lay him in the calf cage, then close the door. He was surprisingly light -- I'm guessing 25 lbs -- but then Lucy has always been a tiny cow.
The calf cage worked perfectly, absolutely stinkin' perfectly. (My husband is a genius!) Very slowly, he backed the tractor out of the pasture. Just as quickly, he gathered an entourage.
In fact, he gathered the whole herd except -- you guessed it -- Lucy, who was so engaged in eating the afterbirth she didn't notice I had kidnapped her baby.
And then the unthinkable happened.
Matilda -- very very pregnant Matilda -- had innocently gone to the water trough to get a drink. The rest of the herd, milling about and excited by the new calf and the drama of the tractor and calf cage, poured through the connecting gate where the water trough is located. Then two cows -- for the record, Dusty and Rosy -- viciously, and I mean viciously, attacked Matilda, goring her with their horns. (One of the reasons we try to dehorn heifers when they're babies.)
Poor Matilda has always been at the bottom of the pecking order, and heavy with her calf and a massive pendulous udder, she was at a disadvantage. Don stopped the tractor while I beat the animals away from my beloved cow. Poor Matilda was bewildered by the sudden hostility from ordinarily peaceful herdmates. So I took her by the halter chain (I didn't have a lead rope with me) and hauled her back across the pasture through the gate (manned by Younger Daughter), and released her into the driveway area. Then I stomped back to the tractor, totally pissed off at two cows I could mention.
The newborn calf handled the jostling trip in the calf cage like a trooper. By this point Lucy looked up and saw she was all alone, and thankfully came galloping up to join the entourage. I don't think she knew her baby was in the cage; she just wanted to see what was up. It always takes first-time mothers awhile to get the hang of mothering, so I didn't hold this against her.
Younger Daughter opened the gate wide to allow Don on the tractor through, while I held off the rest of the herd. Rather to our surprise, we easily got Lucy through into the driveway and left everyone else bellowing in excitement in the pasture.
I carried the calf from the cage to the security of the barn, and without much effort we got Lucy scooted in as well, where she was reunited with her baby.
The baby is a strong nurser and Lucy shows every indication of being a good mother, so we gave her food and left her to recover from her ordeal.
Don had an evening meeting in town, so when he got back we went to snip the duct tape off little Pixie's head. It was dark in the corral, and we used the strobe setting on the flashlight to momentarily confuse Pixie, which allowed me to hold her tightly while Don snipped away the tape. It took less than 30 seconds.
We retired back into the house for a well-deserved rest. Ah, but our day was not yet over.
Don's the night owl in the family, so I went to bed around 10 pm. I woke up at 1:30 -- Don was still up -- and heard soft moos from Matilda. I got dressed, we both took flashlights, and found Matilda had dropped her calf in the barn. It was also a little boy, and he was mostly dry when we found him, so we estimate he was born around midnight. How glad I am we pushed her back into the driveway after she was attacked in the pasture. Her actual due date was May 25, so her timing was spot-on.
By morning the little boy was wobbling around and seemed strong, but he wasn't able to nurse from Matilda's low-hanging udder.
This identical scenario happened when Amy was born, so we expected it. Accordingly, I gathered together the milk buckets and baby bottle, ready to milk out Matilda's colostrum and bottle-feed the calf, when I made a grim discovery: mice had chewed the tip of the nipple.
Fool that I am, I didn't have any spare nipples. (And I call myself a prepper? Ha!)
Well, I was putting off taking a trip to the city anyway, so Younger Daughter and I hastily assembled a brief grocery list and off we went. I purchased a plastic bottle...
...and multiple nipples and an extra ring. I was pleased to the ring and nipples will fit on a canning jar (smart move on the part of the designers!), so there's an emergency backup calf bottle if necessary.
When I got home, it took 30 seconds to see the little baby had not yet received that life-saving effusion of colostrum into his little belly, so I pulled Matilda into the milking stall and hastily milked half a gallon of colostrum from her. Her udder hangs so low and her teats were splayed so wide apart, I needed two bowls to milk into.
The calf took very little time to get the hang of the bottle. By this point he was 14 hours old and hadn't had his first meal yet, so as you can imagine he avidly sucked down a quart of colostrum fresh from his mama.
Then the funniest thing happened. Matilda, who had been outside the barn while we were feeding the calf, ambled in and saw what we were up to. She came right over and started licking my hand -- licking and licking and licking.
I ended up feeding the calf with one hand and letting Matilda lick my other hand, until the baby was done eating. Did she lick me out of gratitude? I can't say for certain, since she's always been a "licky" cow.
Well needless to say, the little guy perked right up after his first feeding.
He gave the happy little skippy-hops of a healthy newborn and played with Matilda's tail.
Matilda is simply the best mama (except for her low-slung udder). She loves calves.
But our day wasn't over.
With Pixie recovered from her dehorning, there was no longer a reason to keep her and Polly in the corral, so I put Polly on a lead rope and brought her back to the pasture, with Pixie following behind.
The rest of the herd, confined to the road-side of the pasture, came thundering over to the fence to see little Pixie.
Pixie alternated between cautiously sniffing her new herd-mates...
...and gamboling about the pasture.
Meanwhile the herd, watched, fascinated.
Then it happened again.
We opened the connecting gate between the pastures and the herd came pouring through.
Within moments, two cows -- for the record, Dusty and Rosy -- viciously, and I mean viciously, attacked Polly. I didn't get any photos of this because let me tell you, I was armed and dangerous. For half an hour, I stood guard over Polly and literally beat the other animals off with a stout length of PVC. (Watch out, ladies, we have a date with the butchers on November 15 for four animals...and we're taking notes.)
Pixie, thankfully, was fine during this onslaught. It's a rare thing for a cow to attack a newborn calf, anyone's calf, so except for bleating pitifully while separated from Polly, no one molested her. But finally Dusty -- the biggest provocateur of the attacks -- got the message I was serious about staying away from Polly. Cautiously everyone settled back down. Except for a few more skirmishes during which Polly was able to establish her dominance back in the herd, the animals calmed.
But the day was not yet through.
Around 8 pm I fed Lucy, milked Matilda again, and Younger Daughter bottle-fed the calf his dinner.
With the farm settling down for the evening, I glanced at the pasture to make sure Polly was okay -- and saw three, count them three, yearlings in the neighbor's pasture.
With a sigh of frustration, I gathered Don and Younger Daughter, and off we went. This time the problem was compounded by the neighbor's horses, who naturally wanted to investigate the connecting gate Younger Daughter was manning. We couldn't keep the gate open for the yearlings to get through without the horses getting through as well, so it took some juggling to get two of the yearlings through the gate. The third yearling solved the problem by jumping -- jumping! -- over the fence back onto our side.
I tell ya, if we ever won the lottery I would install six-foot chain-link fences around our entire stinkin' property. Maybe then we could keep cows where they're supposed to be.
Finally, after two solid days of dealing with nothing but cattle issues, we all came into the house, ticked off and exhausted. As I showered off the sweat, I seriously contemplated the notion of selling all the cows and moving to New Zealand.
Oh, and this morning two yearlings were back on the neighbor's side of the fence.
Fortunately I was able to get them back where they belong.
Then I couldn't find Matilda. I simply could -- not -- find her. I scoured the driveway area -- she's a big cow, how could I miss her? -- and finally found her tucked behind the log pile.
So as you may have guessed, it's been one of those weeks.
Oh, and yesterday was our 26th wedding anniversary. I love you honey.