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.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Calf Watch Update for Siobhan, Our First-Calf Dexter Heifer

I did a previous post on our "calf watch" for Siobhan, but let me summarize some signs of approaching calving before I give an update.  (You can read the full article I'm summarizing here.)  I've looked at tons of websites and photos recently, and everyone recommends taking photos of your cow because each cow is different.  This might help you know what to expect next time, or not!  Because, just like criminals, cows can change their MO!  I'll try to arrange my photos in the order of the following list:

(1)  Body shape grows increasingly barrel-shaped and changes to pear-shape as calving becomes imminent.  This happens because the calf drops down, but this sign disappears as the calf moves into the birth canal and is no longer visible as a bulge.

(2)  Bagging up.  This is when the udder begins to fill.  Siobhan began to bag up about 6 weeks before June 1.  Eventually the teats fill, too, and may even stick out.  This is called strutting.  It may happen within two or three days of calving time.  It can happen immediately before calving or not at all, and it is not a dependable sign.  Some cows leak milk shortly before calving, but others can leak for a longer time or not at all.

(3)  Springing.  This is loosening of the vulva so that it becomes saggy or flabby with folds of skin, and it jiggles when the cow walks.  It can occur as early as two weeks before calving.

(4)  Mucus plug.  You may notice thick, tenacious mucus stringing from the vulva if the mucus plug that has blocked the cervix loosens and is expelled.  It might also be seen pooling behind the cow when she is lying down.  This can also occur weeks before calving; in Siobhan's case it has not yet occurred.

(5)  Relaxation of the pelvic ligaments.  This causes prominent pin bones.  This can be a reliable sign only if you check your cow several times a day.  It is difficult to observe on fat cows and very easy to see on thin cows.  (Here's a link with great photos.)  This is a great explanation:

The pelvic ligaments also relax. The area between tail head and point of the buttock (pin bone) on each side of the tail appears somewhat sunken. Labor will usually begin about 12 hours after complete relaxation of those ligaments.
If your cows are gentle enough to let you walk up and scratch them, you can feel the pelvic ligaments next to the tail head. This is one of the surest ways to predict calving.
These ligaments are about an inch in diameter, connecting the pin bones to the spine. They attach to the vertebrae just ahead of where the tail starts and are easily visible on most dairy cows and on thin beef cows.
On a fleshy beef cow, you can’t see them – but you can feel them. The ligaments are normally hard and tight, except for a few hours before labor begins and just after calving.
They loosen up as part of the process that enables the birth canal to expand so the calf can come through. If they are soft and spongy, the cow will calve soon.
(6) Behavior changes. As labor is ready to begin, a cow may isolate herself or not come to eat as she usually does. Even more behavioral changes will be seen as labor actually starts: The cow may become restless, moo, look around at her side, lie down and get up, etc. When she does this, she's saying pretty loud and clear, "This calf is coming!"

Calf Watch Update Day 5, June 1

(1)  Body shape.  Not a lot can be seen of Siobhan's shape from this angle, but I'm including this photo as a reference point.

(2)  Bagging up.  Up till now the rear quarters of her udder have been larger, but now they are about equal.

(3)  Springing.  There's no real change to my eye.

I'm very unhappy about those red ticks, but Siobhan was even more unhappy when I tried to pull them off!  I'm just going to have to wait until they get big enough to grab easily so I can get out of the way before she reacts!

I'm including this angle as another reference point for the degree of springing.

At this point there's nothing to report for the other signs:

(4)  Cervical mucus.

(5)  Relaxation of the pelvic ligaments.

(6)  Behavior changes.

Siobhan's only comment is "How much longer is this going to last?"

Calf Watch Update Day 7, June 3

Poor Siobhan is saying, "REALLY?  You're taking pictures of my rear end AGAIN?"

"Yes, I am, Siobhan!  So hurry up and have that baby, and I promise I'll (mostly) quit taking pictures of you and take millions of your adorable baby instead!"

(1)  Body shape.  Here she's showing more pear shape than barrel shape, at least on her right side.

Again, I'm including this full-body shot just as a point of comparison.

 (2)  Bagging up.  The front and rear quarters of her udder still look pretty equal at this point.
(3)  Springing.  There's no real change from two days ago.  You can also check springing on the first photo from June 3.  Status quo.

(4)  Cervical mucus.  Nope!

(5)  Relaxation of pelvic ligaments.  This photo is mainly for future comparison.  Obviously a beefier Dexter is not going to look exactly like the photos of Jerseys that people have so helpfully posted.  However, I'm palpating for the pelvic ligaments a couple times a day, looking for a change.  The April 21 photo after this one shows Siobhan still in her winter coat, but even allowing for that, I think her whole rear end now has a pointier, bonier look with a slightly sunken look above the pin bones and below the tail.

(6)  Behavior changes.  None reflecting impending labor, but Siobhan has decided that SHE is the boss of the sheep instead of vice versa!  At first she was scared of them, but now she accepts their presence near her.
She even tolerates them licking up some of her DE/mineral salt mixture--once she's eaten all the alfalfa cubes.

Obaama really isn't saying "Bleah" the way it looks.  That's what Rambo says.  Obaama's flicking his tongue in and out as fast as butterfly wings, licking the salt from his nose.
When Siobhan decided that she'd shared her bowl enough, she "cowed" the sheep with a single look, and they "sheepishly" backed away, then turned tail and ran.  Now you know how those words came to have their meanings!

Calf Watch Day 8, June 4

This morning Siobhan came over to visit with me under the shade of the old oak tree.  We had some nice scratching, hand-feeding her a bit of chicken crumble, and a talk about why she hates my natural fly spray so much.

She didn't tell me, but I've decided that I'd rather her see me as a friendly human rather than a mean applier-of-the-hated-fly-spray.  At least it's the flies bothering her--not me!

(1)  Body shape.  Here's that lop-sided pear shape again.  (I try to take these photos when she's standing straight forward, not turning her head to one side.)

(2)  Bagging up.  Since yesterday the rear quarters of her udder have filled up even more and are now fuller than the front quarters again.  The teats look quite full, although not what I would call strutting from other photos I've seen.
This angle shows that the right rear quarter is bigger than the left again.  Her udder is definitely getting in the way of her walking now.

(3)  Springing.  Compared to the May 28 photo in the previous post, she is definitely more saggy and has more folds.  The poor thing reminds me of that old Jello commercial:  "Watch it wiggle, see it jiggle."  :)

(4)  Cervical mucus.  Still none.  Seeing the way manure sticks to her, I think if there was any mucus, it would, too.

(5)  Relaxing of the pelvic ligaments and prominent pin bones.  I was trying to get her udder in focus in this picture, but when I looked at it on my computer, I saw that it represents what I've described as Siobhan getting "pointy."

This photo also shows that "hollow" look that her rear end is developing.  While I'm not seeing anything dramatic like the photos of the Jersey where you can put your hand in the "canyon" between her tail and her pin bones, I definitely see a progression in Siobhan's photos.

Am I going to say that her pelvic ligaments are completely relaxed?  No.  I think it's one of those things "you'll know when you see it."

Tonight when I was feeding, Siobhan came up for her bowl of alfalfa cubes.  Palpating where the ligaments should be, I didn't feel any resistance, just "soft sagginess."  I've never felt the "pencil like" ligaments that people say you can feel on thinner cows, but up until now she's always felt "firm" when I massage that area.

I'll check her again before bedtime and see if I notice any change.

(6)  Behavior changes.  None, Siobhan is her usual placid self.

When Siobhan was ready to graze again and I was ready to go inside, Zephyr stayed right on the other side of the fence.  I wonder if she knows something I don't know?

Tomorrow we're supposed to have isolated thunder storms and a 30% chance of rain.  Thursday and Friday we're supposed to have scattered thunderstorms and a 50% chance of rain.  I've heard people say that cows often seem to know when a bad storm is coming and go have their calf before it happens.  I wonder if Siobhan has heard the same thing?!  And I wonder if scattered thunderstorms are "bad enough" weather to make her have that calf tomorrow?

Only time will tell . . .  Meanwhile, I'll just keep checking her several times a day.

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