There is a parable about the farmhand who puzzled the farmer that hired him by giving as his qualifications "I can sleep through a storm." I would love to be able to say that for the same reasons that farmhand did, but I can't fully claim that. Normally, I can sleep through a storm simply because I'm exhausted from all the farm work. Happy, but exhausted.
But last night, I woke up to an uneasy feeling in my gut about 2:30am. I rarely tour the farm at night, but wanted to check on the meat chickens, as we had lost a few of them during the cold nights and changed our brooders to make them warmer. I also knew that our heifer Nora was near to calving. So, since I was wide awake anyway, I got dressed, put on muck boots and a headlamp, and went for a walk.
The chicks were all cozy and distributed in their brooders like beachgoers sunning on a tropical beach. So our modifications were working. Brooders that are too hot or too cold can cause a lot of chicken deaths, so seeing them all on their beach blankets with their sunglasses and little umbrella drinks was comforting. They saw me peek in and raised their glasses as if to toast me, so I smiled and moved on.
Next, I ambled through the dark pasture below the pond to the beef cow's paddock in the orchard, where I had noticed yesterday that Nora was swelling up to give birth. Nora is Foxy's daughter and was born here at Helios Farms, so this is her first calving before she joins the milking line. All the steers and cows with Nora were sleeping, but she was up grazing. Nora hasn't been a particularly cuddly cow, not like some of her heifer buddies. She is always a bit stand offish and not really wanting much attention from me, so I've wondered how she is going to be in the stanchion.
I stepped over the electric wire and went to check on her. There are two tendons near the tail that are sure-fire indicators of impending calving. Those tendons, one on each side of the tail, essentially disappear. Normally, they feel like bones. Once they vanish, a calf will come within 12 hours. So far, that indicator has been 100% reliable for me, with the time actually being under 6 hours.
Nora's tendons were gone. She really appreciated the scratching I was giving her on her tail, so I stood there a while and gave her a massage in that area. I find that helps them relax. I told her that she was about to have a calf. "We have to put you in the barn in the morning", I said. I was thinking I'd get back to bed and then come down first thing and put a halter on her. Then I headed back to the house.
When I got to the gate, I noticed she was following me. I was a little surprised. "You want to go up there now?" I asked. She just looked at me. So, I opened the gate and she came with me. We ambled up to the house together. She stopped now and then for a bite of fresh clover, but was obviously focussed on following me to the house. As we got near the house, I told her to go into the stanchion and I'd give her some alfalfa pellets. She has horns, so she had to figure out how to fit them into the stanchion, which she did. I ran her through a "faux milking", which I'll do with the new heifers to get them used to the routine before the actual first milking. I just turn everything on like I'm milking her, and handle her udder, but don't actually milk. Then I put on a halter and walked her up to the old barn, where we have a calving stall set up.
This morning after milking, John, our intern announced that Nora had her calf. I headed out to the barn to start my nanny duties. Here's a few pictures of what I saw.
Nora's bull calf.
My normal calving routine with dairy cows is to hand milk some of the colostrum into a calf bottle, and then give the calf the bottle as soon as I can after discovering the calf. Here's a picture I took of this process when Maya calved.
This gets the calf trained to a bottle right away and keeps the mother's precious udder dedicated to the kinder-gentler milking machine. After a few days with the newborn calf, the dairy cows, who are born professionals, join the rest of their colleagues at work and seem content to have us farmers take good care of their offspring in the calf nursery. Here is a picture of the current calf nursery, complete with some of this season's calves (from left, Beauty, Begonia, Meatzza-cup, Meatzza, and Morris). We named Nora's bull calf Norton.
So that's the story of Nora's first calf. I normally sleep through the storms, but not last night (and it wasn't even stormy). Now it's time to go milk Nora. You will see Nora Moo-Who's Single-Moo Milk in your fridge soon. Born and raised at Helios Farms.
Links for further reading..."I can sleep through a storm."
Nora has never been a cuddly cow. Here's a "cuddly cow."