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, June 6, 2013

After Birth: The Not-Quite-So-Cute Side of Our Dexter Heifer's First Calving

I've already posted lots of cute pictures of Siobhan, our Dexter heifer, right after giving birth to her first calf.  After eight days of up-close-and-personal calf watch photos, you might guess that I also have plenty of photos about the less adorable, more earthy side of calving!

Now that you've been fairly warned, here are some photos (along with some that are still adorable--because isn't a newborn calf always adorable?)

I'm guessing the calf was born a little before 9 am, judging by the time Herb found her.  This photo was taken at 9:59 a.m. and shows the umbilical cord trailing from Siobhan's vulva.

Some of the springing and softening of the pelvic ligaments (see the hollow below the tail-head) is still visible.

About 10 minutes later, the calf was on the move.  Having given birth myself, I must say that it's nice that human mothers don't have to start chasing after their babies immediately!  We get 6 or more months to recover before that happens.
Cows don't have the choice to bottle-feed or not--and their babies are born with teeth.  That's another thing we human mothers don't have to contend with for about 6 months!

After the first round of photos I took right after birth, I went back inside to give Siobhan and her calf some bonding time.

It was almost noon, about three hours after the birth, when I went back out to check on them. I noticed the umbilical cord was gone, and Siobhan was busy eating.  I thought I knew what . . .
Yes, indeed, she had delivered her placenta and was eating it.  This is hands-down the most disgusting aspect of calving!  I've read that some people take the placenta away for fear the cow will choke on it and because they say it serves no purpose for her to eat it.

My theory about this is that there are a lot of mysteries about God's creation that we don't understand.  We don't know of a logical purpose for a domestic cow eating her placenta.  She certainly doesn't have to worry about cleaning up so predators don't scent her calf because she's in a safely-fenced field with a livestock guardian dog on duty.  However, if God gave the cow the instinct to lick her baby's face (often necessary to remove membranes so the calf can breathe) and lick its body all over maybe there's a reason He gave her this placenta-eating instinct.  Maybe someday we'll know why--and maybe not.

Watching this was rather like watching a child slurp up a long piece of spaghetti--and I do hope that's not what you were planning for supper tonight!
Yes, this is easily the most disgusting aspect of calving!
No wonder Siobhan felt the need to lie down and rest after giving birth, following her calf around the field, nursing it and eating her placenta!  And just as every mother knows, no sooner do you get baby settled and decide to take a nap yourself, than someone comes to visit!  Fortunately these visitors just wanted to peek at the baby, and one look from mama sent them on their way.  Bovine mothers don't have to worry about being polite!

There's nothing more wonderful that the feel of a newborn baby's soft skin.  It sends a thrill right through the palms of my hands up my arms and right to my heart!  A cow doesn't have hands, but Siobhan was obviously basking in the feel and scent of her baby.

Having seen the umbilical cord in the previous photo, let's take a closer look at it.

When Siobhan was born, Sara wouldn't let us near her for weeks so we never did anything to Siobhan's umbilical cord.

With all my calf-watch reading, I never got around to reading about immediate after-birth-care for the calf other than the fact that it needed colostrum in the first few hours.  My bad!

A scare today over a bellowing mama and a floppy, un-rousable calf 24 hours after her birth, moved us to call our vet.  It also sent me to the internet looking for umbilical cord care.  I learned that some people don't do anything, but the majority (especially if calves are born in the mud or in feedlots) dip their umbilical cords in tincture of iodine to prevent infection.  Believing that late is better than never, we did it right then.

After talking with our new vet who is thankfully available, we're not so worried about tetanus, but we know that a systemic infection of the bloodstream is possible.  That can lead to a lethargic, sleepy calf as one of the first symptoms.  At this point we're going to monitor the calf's temperature (not over 102° in the cool of the morning) and activity, making sure she gets up to nurse regularly.  A farm call from the vet is not possible today and he agrees that it's better not to put Siobhan and the calf through the stress of taking the calf away and hauling it to the clinic when it's hopefully just a tiny newborn sleeping soundly in the sun.

As Herb said earlier, "Worry is no fun!"

With all that curly hair for the amniotic fluid to soak into, Siobhan had her work cut out licking the calf dry.  We could have toweled it dry, as I've read that some people do, but we preferred to let Siobhan do her own mothering, which she seemed to be doing very conscientiously.  It was a warm, dry morning so we weren't worried about the calf being chilled.

At one point Siobhan seemed to simply inhale the scent of her calf.  Her expression reminded me of times I've inhaled the sweet baby powder scent of one of my own children or grandchildren.

Licking off the birth fluids from the calf actually assists in the cow's bonding with her calf and recognizing it as hers.  This is something else we human mothers are glad we don't have to do!

At one point after all her activity of the morning, Siobhan laid down near her calf.  I sat down in the tall grass a little ways off (with my telephoto lens).  Listening to the birds singing and feeling the gentle breeze stirring the long grass, it seemed to me that there couldn't be a more beautiful place or a more beautiful day on which to enter the world.


  1. It's refreshing to see someone let instinct run it's course.

    Many moms I know encapsulate their placenta to partake of the minerals and life-giving benefits.

    1. I hadn't heard of that, but it's very interesting. Much easier to do visually than actually having to eat it! :)

  2. Yes, I'm glad I'm a human mom, too! Mmmm, wouldn't want to bathe the baby with my tongue either! lol Really sweet pics of Siobhan and her calf in all your posts!

    1. Barbara, you're too funny! Karen said almost the exact same thing! She said when they tried to hand her her babies in the hospital right after birth she said, "Could you clean it off first?" She said that if she couldn't even hold the gooey baby, could you imagine what she'd do if the nurse said, "Here's your baby, you can lick it off now!" I'm sure Herb thinks I'm crazy, but I'm sitting here HOWLING OUT LOUD as I type this just picturing the scene in my head! :D

    2. Oh, absolutely, I'm sitting here howling at the thought also! (It's always nice to start the day with a laugh!) Poor Karen, she would have turned green! Funny, Gooey babies never bothered me, just the thought of using my tongue as a washcloth. Ugh!

    3. We should make sure every expectant (human) mother reads this so she realizes that pregnancy and childbirth could be a LOT worse and she has a lot to be thankful for! :D Thanks to your comment, I'm enjoying yet another laugh over this! Using your tongue as a washcloth! ROFL!


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