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.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Calf Watch for Siobhan's Second Calf

When Siobhan was pregnant with her first calf last summer, I did several very detailed calf watch posts, here and here, both of which have quite a lot of information on the signs of approaching calving.  Without replicating all that work, I do want to post photos from Siobhan's second calf watch.  As a mature cow, she looks different this time, besides each calving being different.

On April 29, before I left for Houston, I took a photo of Siobhan's udder.  She had dried off nicely, except for the always-larger right rear quarter.  You can see the curve of it low down between the two teats in the front of the photo.  All four teats were nice and "shriveled" and the quarters were soft and flaccid.

April 29 - Siobhan was dried off in three of four quarters.
I got home from Houston and Herb's graduation late on May 10.  I checked Siobhan right away, although I didn't have my camera handy.  This photo was taken on May 13, and it was clear that Siobhan was bagging up.  Calf watch had begun!  Her udder was beginning to fill with milk, and some of her teats were filling, too.

This is what Siobhan looked like from behind on May 13.  Her due date, calculated approximately from unwitnessed pasture breeding, was May 20.

I had never seen a sign of Macree trying to nurse, although when I put her back with Siobhan after Ebony calved, I put a weaning ring back in to discourage her from trying.

Now, with Siobhan bagging up, I was worried that the temptation might be too hard for Macree to resist.  So poor Macree got outfitted with what Kara calls a "Medieval torture device."  This is an old-fashioned weaning ring I bought from E-bay as a novelty.  I figured the old-timers must have known something, and it could only be supplemental insurance against any mischief!

Sweet Macree is very laid back, and she took it quite calmly.  She shows none of her dam's talent for getting out of my contraptions!
May 23 -  I kept a daily watch on Siobhan, of course, but not much changed.  Her due date came and went.  By May 23 she was showing slight springing, when the vulva becomes a bit swollen and floppy as it softens to prepare for birth.
Here is the right side of Siobhan's udder on May 23.  It's filling, but not "there" yet.

Here's the left side of her udder on May 23.  You can see that the right rear quarter is larger than the left rear.

Here's a full-length shot of Siobhan on May 23.  I planned to watch her closely and take her anti-self-sucking harness off when it looked like she was closer to going into labor.

 Here's a rear shot, also from May 23.  As I look at it now in retrospect (compared to the one above), it looks as if Siobhan had begun to go a bit slab-sided.  That's when the calf drops and the high round swelling of the belly drops down lower.

In fact, when some cows go slab-sided they don't even look pregnant any more.  That's because the calf has dropped down low to move into the birth canal.

Watching for signs like these is very subjective, and it's hard to miss slight changes.  That's why I take lots of photos, but it doesn't always help . . .
Here's the final photo from May 23, showing the wrinkles around the vulva and the filling udder.

May 26 -  Monday, May 26 was Memorial Day.  We were scheduled to go to a picnic about 10 minutes from home.  Siobhan spent almost all day up in the shade shack with Macree by her side.  She would venture out and graze, then go back into the shade.  You can see even from this distance that Siobhan had bagged up considerably and that her teats were swollen and sticking straight out, compared to the earlier photos when they were wrinkly and droopy.

Here's a close-up from May 26.  Siobhan understandably didn't want me sticking my head in any closer, and I didn't want to disturb her and make her leave her refuge from the heat.

I checked her frequently during the day, but there was no sign of  a mucus string hanging from the vulva, another important indicator of imminent calving (one that Siobhan didn't exhibit last time).

Besides Siobhan spending much of the day in the shade shack, there was one other thing I observed.  Macree repeatedly tried to mount Siobhan during the day.  This wasn't extremely unusual behavior for her when she was in heat, but it made me wonder . . .

I checked Siobhan before we left for the picnic, and we only stayed for a couple of hours.  I checked her again when we got home, and there was no change.  So we settled down to re-watch an episode of "Downton Abbey"  about 8:00 p.m.  Right before we started the second episode at 9:00, I decided to go check Siobhan again.  As courtly as Matthew Crawley, Herb offered to go in my place.  He returned to say that Siobhan was grazing peacefully so we settled down again.  About 10:00, Herb got ready to take Misty out to the barnyard for the night, and I said I wanted to go along in the Doodad and use the headlights to check on Siobhan.  I planned to check her during the night, too.

To our complete and total surprise, Siobhan had a little red calf at her side!  We hurried back in for the camera and some molasses water, and while we were gone Siobhan moved the calf over beside the shade shack.  It was still quite wet and must have just been born.  A quick feel under its tail told me it was a bull calf--oure first one born on Zephyr Hill Farm!

Siobhan went into the shade shack and seemed to want her baby in there with her, mooing gentle little mama moos until we carried him in for her.  She then went to work, licking him dry. The mama cow licking amniotic fluid off her calf is beneficial in many ways:  It stimulates the calf and helps to dry it; it may actually increase the number of antibodies the calf absorbs from the colostrum; and it is believed to have an analgesic effect on the cow.  It is also important in establishing the maternal bond.

Once Siobhan had her calf well-licked, she was ready to drink the 5 gallon bucket of warm molasses water I had brought her.  This is a trick I learned from Keeping a Family Cow:  Molasses is loaded with vitamins and minerals that cows need, especially after calving. It also gives them energy and carbs to head off ketosis. At first I thought the molasses was just for an energy boost after laboring, but it's much much more than that. 

By the time Siobhan had finished her molasses water, it was 10:35 p.m.  Other than following her over to the shade shack, the calf had not gotten up, nor had it nursed, to our knowledge.  It's really essential for the calf to get some colostrum within two hours of birth, and I knew that if this one didn't get up and start nursing, I wouldn't be able to go to sleep.  So I got hold of little Mr. Lazy Bones and got him on his feet (almost 11 p.m.)  We gave him 15 or so minutes, but although he would wander over in the general direction, Siobhan was too restless for him to get hold and start nursing.
Finally I decided that some help was in order.  Siobhan's udder was extremely full and almost certainly very tender, and she wasn't standing still enough for the little guy to latch on.

So we put a lead on her and tied her to a stout fence post.  Then Herb carried the calf over, and I helped him find a teat.  He found one quickly and started to nurse, but Siobhan kept shifting forward and backward from the discomfort.  We petted and soothed her and did our best to calm her and keep her still.  The calf did pretty well figuring out where she had moved the milk bar to and getting back on, so we let him go.

By 11:30 he'd had a good feed and lain back down.  We let Siobhan go, and she went right back to licking him.  There was one last task before we could head for bed--put Misty in the pasture with the new baby.  We'd already heard coyotes in the distance (evil beasts!) so we were thankful to know that Misty would protect the calf.  We were finally able to head for bed and a good night's sleep with both mama Siobhan and Misty on the job taking care of the calf.  What a memorable Memorial Day!

As I was writing this post, I realized that I was surprised by the calf's arrival because I had forgotten to check for one key sign of calving.  Look back at one of the last photos I took of Siobhan on Memorial Day.  If you look at the red oval in the photo above, you will notice a shadowy hollow below the tail head.  This is the hook-to-pin area where the pelvic ligaments can be felt.  One of the ultimate pre-calving signs is when those ligaments loosen, often described as "the pins going."  At that point you can guess that the cow is going to calve within twelve hours.  I had gotten fixated on looking for mucus--because Ebony had a big blob of mucus before she calved and I missed that clue.  Even though Siobhan didn't exhibit any mucus at all before her first calving, I was busy looking for it and I forgot to check her pins!  And so I was 0 for 2 predicting my cows' calving this year!

It just goes to show, we only think we're in charge of our animals.  God, the cow and the calf are the ones who are really in charge!  We're just along for the ride!


  1. Yea, Siobhan!!

    1. She heard that Ebby avoided getting photos of, ahem!, certain areas plastered all over the internet by calving early, and she thought she'd take me by surprise and hope for the same result. Too bad! :D


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