Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is She or Isn't She? Is Our Cow Pregnant and Getting Ready to Calve?

Here are the facts:
  • We know the day Sara got bred because she was AI'd.  She was bred November 9, 2011.
  • On June 29, 2012 when the AI tech was here, I commented about how huge Sara was and said, "That's a pregnant cow!"  He agreed.
  • About July 12, Herb found what he told me were two badly decayed fawn legs that the dogs had brought into the front yard to chew on.  He bagged them and disposed of them.
  • I consulted the PDCA Spring 2012 The Journal's "Beef Gestation Table."  It says that a cow bred on Nov. 9 would calve on Aug. 18.  This qualifying statement is at the top of the table: 
Table based on 283 day gestation.  Generally younger cows and smaller breeds may calf (sic) calve up to 10 days earlier and older cows and larger breeds may calve up to 10 days later.
  • With Siobhan, Sara calved three days before her expected due date.
Based on the fact that Sara is older, but also a smaller breed, I estimated that she could calve between Aug. 8 - 28.

On Aug. 9, we brought Sara to the barnyard where we can observe her, feed her up a bit with hay and some pellets, and especially have a calf safe inside the no-climb horse fence (meaning no coyotes, etc. can get in).  We would rather have her in the Home Pasture where she can graze, especially with all this rain we've had.  BUT we have no idea what the pigs might do to a 35-lb. calf NOR what Sara might do to our future pork if they tried!

By early this week, Herb and I had both independently looked at Sara and asked ourselves, "Is she really pregnant?"  She just didn't have that "ready to pop" look we remembered with Siobhan.  We wondered if she could have lost the calf, although Herb was down at the pasture nearly daily getting the horses up, and surely he would have noticed something amiss.  Just in case, he walked the pastures looking for any clue.  While he was gone, I had a sickening thought:  What if those weren't fawn legs?  Herb reassured me a bit when he came back and said he hadn't found a thing and those legs were brown, not black.

Wishing for some wisdom and experience, it suddenly dawned on me:  We're members of the ADCA, and we have a REP!  So I called Charles Townson of Beaver Tree Farm in S.C.  He was extremely helpful.  He confirmed several things I was already doing:

  • Look for stringy mucus coming from the vulvular area (which could happen up to 1-2 weeks before calving).  This would be the mucus plug.  (We could have already missed that.)
  • Watch to see if her milk comes in (tight, full udder, leaking milk, teats "strutting" or sticking out).
  • One tip I didn't know, bulging of the vulva or "springing."  Indicates relaxation and swelling.
  • And the best tip for confirming pregnancy, which I didn't know:  Look at her from behind and see if one side bulges out more than the other, indicating the calf shifting.  If she's leery of us coming up close behind her, stand at a distance and use binoculars.
Charles also told me that he would consider her due date to be Aug. 18.  If she hasn't calved by Aug. 23, then he would call the vet to check her.  He did say that often with older cows who have had multiple calves, they don't bulge out as much as a younger cow so you can't just go by that.  And he said that many times with older cows, they can show no signs of approaching labor and then two hours later there's a calf on the ground.

My cattle handbook doesn't say a word about calving :( so I headed for Google and found some helpful sites:  and Bairnsley Highlands which confirmed the following things I had heard to look for:
  • During the last couple days, the abdomen drops and the flanks appear hollowed out.
  • The tail head can become raised, indicating the tail head ligaments are softening.
  • When the cow is 2-6 hours from pushing, she may seek seclusion (kind of hard in the barnyard!) and be restless, getting up and down.
  • From our very limited experience, right before Siobhan was born, Sara kept mooing.  It sounded rather complaining, but not distressed.
All of this was very encouraging.  I've been observing Sara and taking photos.  It's true, she doesn't seem as wide as she was right before Siobhan was born.  She was wearing a winter coat, though!  :)  I would love some input from cattle-persons more experienced than we are.  So here are two photos taken right before Siobhan was born followed by today's photos.  Feel free to weigh in!

Sara right before Siobhan was born, Nov. 2010

Sara, Nov. 2010

Just for comparison purposes, later.  That's about as close as I can get to her udder without my telephoto lens.

Here's Sara enjoying fresh grass and clover we just pulled up from the garden.  The two bravest chickens are sneaking up behind her to try to get their share.  

Apparently the chickens are below Sara on the totem pole!  Poor girl: Brandy, Angel, Julie and Siobhan all rank higher than she does.  It seems Herb, the chickens and I are the only ones who respect the Horns.

She's definitely getting lots of attention.  So what do you think?


  1. Great post on knowing what to look for to see if your cow is pregnant. Just by looking at the rear end photo's she looks like she is to me.

  2. Thanks, Gordon!

    I've gotten some good answers to emails I sent telling me what to look for. Both recommended we put her in the head gate, push on her right side and see if the calf kicks back. The only problem is that the head gate is two pastures away because that's where a pre-existing chute was, and I lost the vote to build a new one in the barnyard. :) As suspicious as Sara is, it's too much to think of getting her down there, into the round pen, into the head gate and then back up again. If we need the vet, we'll have to do it, but as long as our ADCA Rep thinks we're okay till the 23rd, I think we'll take a "wait and see" approach.

    At any rate, it doesn't look like she's ready to go imminently. I'm going to keep taking photos to compare because I'm looking at her so much, I'm afraid I won't notice slight changes like a lower belly or hollower flanks.

    Hopefully, we'll have good news soon.


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