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.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Calf Watch for Siobhan, Our First-Calf Dexter Heifer

For details on Siobhan's breeding and the bull she's bred to, check the Our Herd and Our Breeding Philosophy page.  When Sara calved Siobhan in November 2010, we knew nothing about cows and calving! We bought an experienced cow so she would do exactly what Sara did:  Pop out a calf and feed it with no trouble.

This time around, we know a little bit more--maybe next to nothing!  To make up for our ignorance and Siobhan's lack of experience, we have taken certain steps.

(1)  We bred Siobhan to a small bull that should throw a smaller calf.  A heifer her age is still growing and will continue to grow during pregnancy, but we didn't want to risk her being able to deliver a large calf for her first.  Better safe than sorry!

(2)  We know Siobhan's approximate calving date, which is June 1.  Since she was pasture-bred rather than AI'd, the exact breeding date is difficult to pinpoint.  Warren and Sally Coad observed Cash closely when Siobhan was with him, and although he is "shy" and prefers to breed unobserved, they could tell by his behavior about when she was bred.

(3)  I got the vet here so he has met Siobhan and knows how to find us.  He told me to call if there's any problem or if she goes into labor and doesn't progress.  (We decided to find a new vet because our former vet was quite passive when things needed to be done, and we want a vet who will do what's needed when we call him!)

(4)  I read!  I found a good article online about the signs of calving and the stages of labor.  It describes differences between first-calf heifers and seasoned cows, which is very helpful.  I looked at a lot of photos and videos online, too.

(5)  We've been observing Siobhan closely.  When I took photos of her on April 5 for a blog post on photographing Dexters, there were no visible signs at all of her being pregnant.  In fact, when the vet saw her on April 29, he said he couldn't even be sure she was pregnant because he couldn't "bump" the calf as she's in very good condition, meaning she's too plump to feel the calf move!  (A blood test confirmed that she was, indeed, pregnant.)

The best way to know when Siobhan is close to calving is to keep observing her closely for changes.  I've been taking photos regularly so that I can compare them.  (Poor Siobhan is getting used to me sticking my camera under her belly and under her tail!)

So here are the photos along with dates they were taken so you can see the gradual progression:

Siobhan, April 5 - No visible signs of pregnancy
Siobhan, April 5 - No signs of "springing."

Siobhan, April 5 - No noticeable increase in her girth.

On April 21 we were out for a stroll and, as usual, I checked on Siobhan.

Siobhan, April 21 - No visible signs of pregnancy
Outwardly she still showed no obvious signs of pregnancy.  (The vet came about a week later and agreed with me.)  That's a chunky little heifer under all that winter coat!

Siobhan, April 21 - Maybe a bit of belly showing from this angle.
There was maybe a bit of increase in her girth from the side.  It's hard to see the vulva in this shot, but there's still no sign of springing.

Siobhan, April 21 - Notice the tiny bit of udder development showing.

That bit of udder peeking out IS a change, though!  I got up close and personal with the camera . . .

Siobhan, April 21 - Rear quarters of her udder beginning to bag up.
... and it was clear that the right rear quarter was quite enlarged compared to the rest of her udder.  (You can see how much lower it hangs in the back.)  The left rear quarter was slightly enlarged compared to the front quarter (the pink-tipped teat visible at left).  This was the first we noticed her "bagging up."

Siobhan,  April 21 - First sign of bagging up.

This slightly different angle shows that only the two rear quarters are enlarged.  Here's an online article about udder anatomy.

Siobhan, May 24 - First sign of springing.
The next noticeable changes were visible on May 24, a month later.  This is springing!

This may come as a surprise to you, but there's a fair amount of misinformation on the internet!  One discussion board defined "springing" as when the cow's udder "springs up."  THIS IS WRONG!

Springing is loosening of the vulva.  It could be described as sagging, developing folds of skin, or becoming flabby.  When the cow walks, it jiggles!

Siobhan, April 5 - Another look at the absence of springing for comparison. 
Compare the May 24 photo directly against the April 5 photo, and you'll see the difference when springing occurs.  As one seasoned cowman said, "When that happens, it's time to get the cow up to the barn."

That's when we brought Siobhan into the Home Pasture, right across the driveway from the barnyard.  From this time forward, we want to keep a close eye on her.

Siobhan, May 24 - Bagging up is evident in all four quarters.

Here is what Siobhan's udder looked like on May 24.  The back quarters are even larger, the front quarters have enlarged, and all four of her teats are starting to fill and stick out.

Siobhan, April 21 - Another look to compare the progress of bagging up.

This is the April 21 photo flipped to the same side as the May 24 photo.  Notice the general filling of her udder in the past month.

Siobhan, May 28

Here Siobhan is walking up the hill in the Home Pasture on May 28.  Her tail head is starting to stick up more prominently.  I palpate the pelvic ligaments regularly to see if they are relaxing, but so far there's nothing noticeable.  The vet told me it's often hard to see on a beefy cow, but here are some photos of a Jersey that illustrate exactly what happens and what it looks like when the pelvic ligaments relax.  This is a sign that calving is probably within 24 hours.

Siobhan, May 28 - Springing
This is a clear shot of springing on May 28.

Siobhan, May 28 - Springing

This photo is sharper although the angle is better on the other one.  I think pictures really are worth 1,000 words!  I wish I had video of how she jiggles when she walks--that's when the springing is really obvious.

Siobhan, May 28 - Her udder is easy to find now!

As of May 28, you can easily see Siobhan's udder, even without bending down to look.
Siobhan, May 29 - Her teats are beginning to fill in the rear quarters; compare the front and rear teats.

This photo from May 29 shows that all four quarters are enlarged now.  Right after I took this photo I (stupidly) decided to see if any colostrum could be expressed, and I reached out and gently pinched the rear teat.  Well, I thought I was gentle!  The straight-out-sideways cow-kick from Siobhan let me know she didn't agree!  Luckily all she got was a dangling hand, and I got a lesson:  Don't squeeze the charmin'!

Siobhan, May 29 - An udder shot from the rear; the right quarter is still fullest.
I got this shot as Siobhan walked indignantly away.  She is getting quite "bagged up" compared to the first signs back on April 21.

I'll keep taking photos and make more posts, so stay tuned.  And one of these days there'll be a new calf to show off!


  1. The April 21 shot has quite a low bulge on her right hand side. Best of luck!

    1. I know. I take it to be the calf. What's your take?

  2. Yes, that's where a calf would bulge. Looks good to me.

    1. Thanks, Brent! I was just a bit worried that your "best of luck" was more in the vein of "you're gonna need it!" :) I didn't worry about Sara at all, not only because she'd already had several calves, but also because I was completely ignorant of everything that could go wrong!

  3. Being she is a first calf heifer, it's not that easy to tell looking at the belly but the udder developing is a sure sign. Let us know who she does and I'm also watching Tiffany. I'm ready for a Red, Polled heifer calf, a bull will also work though. LOL Suzy from the dextercattleonly goup.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Suzy. I appreciate all the input I can get! I would love an A2 heifer, but at this point I really just want a healthy calf and a healthy mama!


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