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.

Friday, June 7, 2013

All of Us Learning Together: Our First-Calf Dexter Heifer

Siobhan having this calf is a lot different for us than when Sara had Siobhan in November, 2010.  Sara was very protective and didn't even want me taking pictures through the rails of the round pen where they were!  I couldn't lean through or she'd shake her horns at me.  So we didn't get to observe Siobhan as closely as we are getting to observe Macree.

Siobhan and mama Sara, November 4, 2010

And yes, the calf finally has a name!  Macree is Irish for "my heart."  We'll register her as "ZH Siobhan's Macree."  I realize that's not good Irish, but we know it means "Siobhan's Heart."  We'll call her "Cree" for short.

Siobhan, November 6, 2010, 2 days old
The story behind this is that when Siobhan was born, I looked at a list of potential Irish names.  I instantly loved the name Siobhan because we liked an American Idol contestant that year, Siobhan Magnus, and I thought she had a beautiful name.  It was icing on the cake that Siobhan means "God is gracious."  Siobhan Magnus, by the way, has reddish-dark hair, like our bovine Siobhan did when she was born.  And boy, can our bovine Siobhan belt it out like the singer Siobhan when she has something to say!

This year there was another contestant on American Idol that we liked, named Kree Harrison.  She has black hair, by the way, just like our Cree.  I don't know if Kree Harrison will appreciate having a calf share her name, but she is a country singer, so maybe she'll get it!

Back to what we're learning . . .

Macree, June 6, 1 day old - Sleeping like a baby!
Here's a photo of Macree sleeping yesterday morning when she was a little over 24 hours old.  Compare that to the photo (above) of Siobhan at two days old.  This is the only way Herb and I remember ever seeing Siobhan resting.  I'm sure she slept--and slept hard--but we just never saw her like this.  Was it because Sara was so suspicious of us that she got Siobhan up and moved her away every time we came near?  Was it because it wasn't hot, humid, drowsy-making weather in November?  Or is is just because Macree is even more laid-back than Siobhan was?

We have since learned that this is a normal way for newborn calves to sleep, and that it's also normal for their eyes to roll downward, leaving the whites showing above.  But not knowing that at first, it was pretty freaky-looking, and it worried us.  What did worry the vet, after he had reassured us about the backwards head and rolling eyes, was the fact that Macree was difficult to rouse and lolled floppily in Herb's arms even when he picked her up and carried her.  He was surprised that she wasn't scared of us and that she didn't get up and move away.  So he asked us to bring her to his clinic at 1:00.  (I think the vet's going to learn something, too--just how mellow Dexters can be!)

We got Macree settled on blankets on the floor of the truck beneath my seat and were just headed out of the driveway to the vet when two things happened simultaneously:  Macree woke up and decided to get up, and the vet's office called to say he had to do an emergency C-section on a goat and couldn't see us until 2:30.  I supported Macree in her standing position while we turned around and went back up the drive.

Back in the pasture, Herb put Macree down (he says she must weigh about 40 lbs.) and after flopping down and being helped to her feet, she promptly headed off down the hill looking for Siobhan.  We felt pretty stupid about our "un-rousable baby"--but we now know that unlike all of our human babies, the car wakes this baby up instead of putting it to sleep!

Macree and mama were reunited, and Misty came up to inspect the new baby.  Siobhan tolerates Misty because Misty sleeps in that pasture to guard the sheep and birds.  We've learned another thing that's different from Sara and Siobhan.  Because it was winter, Sara and Siobhan stayed in the round pen or the barnyard, so Sara was never far from Siobhan.  We've been surprised to see how far Siobhan will wander away from Macree while she's sleeping, but we've been reassured that it's normal.

Macree settled down to nurse.

Then she switched to the rear teat . . .

... and Siobhan moved away.  That quarter has almost always been bigger than the others, and my guess is that it's more uncomfortable for Siobhan when Macree nurses it, even though that's exactly what's needed!

I'm going to have to monitor that quarter to be sure Siobhan doesn't get mastitis, although how on earth I could milk her out without a stanchion I cannot imagine!  If she doesn't want her calf on that teat, I doubt she'd approve of my fingers!  If it comes to that, I'll have to yell for help to my MilkingDexters yahoo board.

Siobhan finally let Macree nurse some more.  Obviously this is a learning experience for all of us!  And we all had yet a few more things to learn . . .

After Macree woke up and nursed, we let the vet know that we thought she was okay and we didn't think it was necessary to put her through a separation from Siobhan to go see him.  Her temp was 103.6° (102.5° is normal), exactly what he expected with her lying out in the sun on a hot day.  He suggested we take her temp in the cool of the morning the next day, and if it was normal, not to worry.

Meanwhile, I figured it couldn't hurt to give her some store-bought colostrum.  It was past the critical 24 hours, but some university websites tout giving it even past that mark because it helps prevent scours.  I ran to Tractor Supply to get some colostrum, a bottle, and a lamb nipple.  (Good advice, Sally Coad!  A Dexter calf would choke on a regular calf nipple!)  Back home, I mixed up the colostrum and put it in the bottle, then tried to put the nipple on.  I learned that is a 2-person job as the bottle slipped and poured colostrum over my counter and down the drawer fronts.

After I mopped the sticky colostrum off the counter and the floor and out of my drawers, Herb helped me get the nipple on.  We took it out, found Macree, and woke her up.  Herb held her body between his legs while I supported her chin and put the nipple in her mouth.  So far, so good--and she began to swallow colostrum.

Just then, of course, Siobhan came over to see what we were doing to her baby, and she was a bit concerned.  She huffed and sniffed at Macree and the bottle and touched our hands with her nose, but she wasn't the least bit aggressive towards us.  Unfortunately, Misty decided that she needed to protect us from Siobhan and began to growl at Siobhan.

Needless to say, Siobhan did not take kindly to Misty's behavior, and she charged at her, exactly as she should.  We scolded Misty and put her out of the pasture, but the magic was broken.  Macree refused to take any more colostrum.  As Herb put it, she was compliant (took the nipple), but not cooperative!

Siobhan and Macree went off together.  We figured if Macree has the energy to wander around the pasture, she's doing just fine on her mama's colostrum!  Who needs the sticky mess on their counter, anyway?

This morning Macree's temperature was a nice 102° as might be expected in the cool morning air.  So, although we're going to keep checking Siobhan and her,  we're reassured that everything is fine!

Next year, however, I'm going to make sure Herb bush hogs the field before a calf comes.  I'm tired of fighting my way through tangled grass trying to find a calf that likes to be down at the bottom of the hill, making me hike back up again each time I check on it!  Maybe in addition to learning a lot, I'll get skinnier by the time this is over!


  1. Wow, Siobhan really is a laid-back mama! It sounds like Macree is doing fine, though. :)

    1. She really is, Carrie! It may be because it's the first time around, but she obviously trusts us! Poor Sara, her life would be so much nicer if she could trust humans!

  2. I learned alot from reading this!

    1. I'm glad, Barbara! I've learned so much from reading other peoples' posts on mistakes they made and things they learned the hard way that I try to pay it forward by doing the same thing.


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