Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I’ve just sat down after the hottest shower I could stand, and I’m fatigued from my morning’s exertions and the letdown of a big dump of adrenalin. I was covered from tips of fingers to almost the armpit (both arms) with birthing fluid/matter and I had lain in a fresh cow plop or two. Why would someone do this, you ask?
We run Irish Dexter cattle, well known for their easy calving and good mothering abilities (among other things) and in the three years we’ve had them I’ve never had to assist in a calving. Until this morning.
Ms. Purdy, a 6 year old cow, was long overdue to calve. As she walked ponderously with her enormous udder swinging, she looked every bit as uncomfortable as a woman overdue. Every day for the last two weeks her udder grew and grew until it reached proportions hitherto unseen outside of a pure dairy breed, and every day I did my pasture walk expecting to find her with her new calf.
This morning the cows all came to water, and as I was doing chores nearby I came over to look. Ms. Purdy stayed away from the group and called constantly. Thinking she had deposited her calf in the grass somewhere and was loathe to leave him, I walked across the pasture to find her in the beginning stages of labor. The rest of the herd followed me back and Finn, our bull, sniffed at his wife with great interest. I watched carefully (escape plan firmly in mind should Finn decide today was the day he wanted to skewer me – he’s always been good, but never trust a bull) as she began to push. After about 15 minutes all I could see from where I was standing was one little hoof. Not a good sign. Finn continued his inspection of her and I couldn’t get any closer. She strained and some small flap appeared (an ear?) beside the hoof. Definitely not good. At this moment Finn sauntered off, my prayers answered, and I went forward to check Ms. Purdy. She’s my least tame cow with wicked horns spanning about 3 feet, but the poor girl was in no shape to protest.
At this point I’d like to mention again that I’ve never had to assist in a calving before. In my previous incarnation to farmer I had been a scientist. Anatomy and book-learning have always been easy, and my theoretical husbandry knowledge came from voracious reading. Anything about farming, livestock, and homesteading was devoured, until I felt I had a library inside my head. Over the years I’d added to it with a great deal of practical knowledge, so right away, although we’d been fortunate up till now to never have a calving problem, I knew I needed to check her out. I gently slid one hand inside and felt back down the calf’s neck to where there was supposed to be the hidden leg. It was back at the shoulder. Ms. Purdy lay down and strained. To get both arms inside I had to lay behind her in the pasture. Of course, there was fresh muck everywhere I had to lay, but there was nothing I could do about that. Casting one last look at Finn (and hoping he’d stay laying where he was a short distance away) and praying that Poppy (our donkey who was even now mouthing the back of my chore dress as I lay on the ground) wouldn’t step on me, I commenced repositioning the calf. As I reached inside and straightened the calf’s head, a nose and tongue now poked out, alongside the leg. At this point Ms. Purdy had another contraction and my arm was squeezed terribly till my fingers were numb. When the contraction ceased I felt down along the calf’s shoulder and down the length of the back-turned foreleg. Another contraction and both Ms. Purdy and I moaned as I felt the bones of my hand grind together. Cupping the tiny hoof (so it wouldn’t puncture the uterine wall), I waited for her to relax and when she did I simultaneously pushed the calf’s head back in and brought around the backturned leg. I extricated my arms in a rush of water and mucous and with the next push a set of front hooves and a nose appeared, and in one more push the calf slithered out.
From there on Ms. Purdy knew what to do (this being the 5th calf she would undoubtedly successfully raise). I watched, happy, my arms beginning to itch as the mucous and blood began to dry on them and the front of my chore dress stained with excrement and blood. I was elated.
Where I used to work, the Drs had a saying for learning new things: “See one, Do one, Teach one”.
Anybody wanna know how to become a bovine OB?
Sue Dick homesteads in Manitoba, Canada. More pictures and information at www.ivyhillfarm.ca and on facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ivy-Hill-Farm/192357360777879