Friday, May 20, 2011

Calving Time for a Small American Cow-Calf Farmer - Originally Published March 2010

This is Donna, a Popeye daughter, and part of our original herd
Global Warming and Cows -- refuting the notion that "cows are the greatest contributor to climate change" has become the focus of so much of my time and energy for several weeks now. Today, my time was more occupied with my actual real British White cows, one cow in particular. She's a cow I nicknamed Donna long ago, in honor of an elementary school classmate who was quite the dominating child -- enough so that I actually remember her taking charge of the classroom when I was in the 3rd grade. She might have been full of honey do this and that in the first and second grade as well, but I was quite occupied in those years with standing in corners and defending my right to 'talk too much', with which my teachers heartily disagreed. Did you ever have to stand in a corner and keep your nose precisely within a small circle? 

This morning I went out to make my cow check, which always starts with a count of each cow in two herds I have by the house. All was well with the smaller group in the more confined pasture by the house. The larger group of cows are one pasture over from the house on about 20 acres that is edged with a deep thicket of woods and a steep ravine, typical terrain in this area of the Pineywoods of East Texas. Each day I count the girls in this big pasture to make sure they're all there, and then look at their udder and their vulva and make a judgment as to whether it's time for any of them to move over one pasture to the one right beside the house, so they'll calve in this more protected pasture.

Well, this morning I was one cow short. I counted about three times, squinted a lot, cursed my aging eye sight, wished I'd brought the binoculars, and deeply regretted I was in flip-flops and shorts as the stinging weed is in full swing. I had no desire to walk across that entire pasture in search of the missing cow with stinging weed slapping and stinging my bare toes.

The next thing I wonder about is just who is missing, and I think of Donna. A couple of days before I had a nagging thought that she might just be ready, she was packing a lot of milk; but, her vulva showed no signs, and in the days prior I'd not spotted any sign of her losing her mucous plug, so I'd left her with the big herd. Sure enough, I scan the cows and I do not see my Donna anywhere. It's actually pretty amazing how a cow person can look at their herd and identify a lot of times each and every one, we don't need an ear tag, we know our cows! 

From Newborn to Handsome Young Bull Calf - Video Taken March 25th, and this Good-Lookin' Youngster was Ten Days Old (Halliburton Arlene is AKA Donna for Most of her Life) 

Dancing with Donna
So began the day of finding Donna, and then checking on my Donna's progress in having her much awaited baby calf. Donna was precisely where I did not want her, or any other of my cow's to be, when they were getting ready to calve. She had gone deep in to the wood thicket that edged the pasture, where most cows instinctively feel they can safely calve and protect their young. And you know, Donna may have been exactly right, but me being a know-it-all human herdswoman -- I disagreed.

Coyotes are an enormous threat in this neck of the Pineywoods of East Texas. They wake you up from a deep sleep with their shrill screaming, and you jump up and run to the door and flip on all the outside lights, and they instantly silence. You then know they are very close and they are looking for food -- and when your cows are calving you know what food they most prefer.

So, for about three hours, Donna and I had a bit of a dance. I located her and made myself a comfy spot where I could keep an eye on her -- that lasted about an hour. She wasn't quite ready to have the calf, and she certainly didn't like my intrusion -- I would look up from my book and through my binoculars see her looking straight at me, so of course she checked out better spots burrowed in ever deeper vines and briers.

I had a choice to make -- let her calve where she chose, or go into the woods and try to bring her out and hope like heck that it didn't have a detrimental impact on her putting a healthy calf on the ground. After about an hour of stressful watching and re-locating of Donna, I made the choice. I went in to the woods and got in behind her, briers slapping and scratching my bare legs, fortunately not my feet, as by then I'd at least had the sense to change my flip-flops in favor of my favorite LL Bean pasture shoes.

Success! Donna headed back to the open pasture with me trailing behind her and moving from side to side to direct her path as best I could through the nest of old briers and vines and trees in this native thicket. The rest of the herd were on the crest of the hill above the woods by then and noticed Donna coming out of the woods, and they came in closer to see what was up. I headed back to the pasture gate and gave the herd my regular call of "Hey Girls!", and like the good girls they are they followed me, and Donna came along as well, bringing up the rear of course, as she had a baby that was ready to come in to this world.

I easily sent the big herd into another adjacent pasture (these British White girls are very gentle and easy to move, and it is always good to have an adjacent pasture that is not occupied), and cut off Donna as she came with interest along with the herd. I directed Donna into the pasture beside the house, and felt the first relief I'd had all day. But, some consternation as well; after all, I had interrupted her calving regimen, something I try to never do. But, I had been remiss in not already pulling her into the 'calving' pasture, and I have no doubt it is the safest place for my new mama cows -- so yes, I interrupted her.

Donna and her newborn Elvis sired bull calf
Another Photo of Donna and her Bull Calf:

Yes, I Talk Too Much!

This account of my day is getting lengthy! I still tend to 'talk too much', but no longer have a teacher around to chastise me to shush -- apparently I didn't have to hold my nose in a circle in a corner of the school room nearly enough! So I'll leave off the rest of the details and tell you the ending. After 6 and a half hours of finding her, watching her, moving her, and then checking on her repeatedly, Donna had a healthy bull calf. Besides my own interruption of her calving ritual, another calf, a 6 week old precocious heifer, provided constant irritating curiosity about just what Donna was doing. Despite all this, a healthy calf was born.

My day is what cow-calf farms or ranches are all about. Raising cows in rural America is not about Global Warming -- has no impact on Global Warming. They are about new life and a calf's first steps, they are about watching a calf dashing about the pasture when they realize they can run -- when they feel just plain good to be alive -- and someone like me is around to feel the joy and look after them and give them as good a life as I am capable - regardless of their ultimate end.