Tribulations of Calf Birthing on the Plains
The Elizabeth Ranch, Northeast Montana – They thought it was dead. The heifer had been straining for hours to give birth, but the calf wouldn't move.
Finally, Cody stuck his hands into the opening and found that one of the hoofs was caught on the side. He gently shifted the foot and the calf shot forth onto the ground.
They thought there was no hope until Cody noticed a slight flex on the side. The heart was beating. They rubbed the animal with straw and rushed him to the vet. The first two doctors were out on the prairie assisting others in emergency birthing. Finally, at the third one, the doctor, usually a gruff Bostonian, took the calf and inoculated it. A bed was made for an overnight. Very little small animal practice here. The doctor beamed and mellowed, happy he could save the small bull.
The next morning the family brought the calf back and introduced him to his mother. She wanted nothing to do with him. She tried to stomp on him, blustered and snorted and was clearly in a foul mood. Whatever motherly instincts she had, left with the small calf in the back of pick up.
The calf was in a bad way. He couldn't stand up to nurse, so human intervention was called for. Cody's father mixed up a batch of milk in a large bottle and attached a nipple. He also prepared a syringe for the mom with a sedative to calm her down.
We all rode together in a side by side to the barn. It was very close quarters. Cody's dad had the long needled syringe hanging out on the driver's side. I was thankful he was keeping it away from us.
We walked into the barn and mom was clearly not glad to see us. She was in a pen and danced around and snorted lowering her head as if charge. The steel railings shook as she bounced against them. I went to the far side of the barn wondering if my red sweatshirt was enticing her anger. Cody assured me it wasn't.
Cody and his father tried to get the small calf to stand. They placed its legs under him, stood him up. I was yelling "Go calf go," but they told me to be quiet. It fell down in a sort of comical fashion. I watched as Cody cradled the calf and tried to feed it. It sniffed at the nipple and then ravenously took the milk. This took about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, the cow, in the pen next to calf, was still angry. Cody's dad put the cow in a head catch, a sort of device that immobilizes the cow from the head back. The railings shook and shifted as the cow, not liking her new confinement, told everyone about her plight. Dad took the syringe and shoved it into her neck. She objected and the railings shook again as I backed up.
The calf, meanwhile, started to stand on its back legs but couldn't get the front legs up. She fell, ate some more and tried to stand again. This went on a few more times with me silently yelling to myself "go calf go."
Whatever was in the syringe for the mama cow had taken effect. She reminded me of a drunk in a bar. Her eyes were glassy and she stumbled around on her four feet barely able to keep her balance.
Cody and his Dad checked her out and saw she was okay while I was struggling mightily to keep back the laughter. I had never seen a drunk cow before.
We will be going to Pastor Hals Sunday services out on a small building on the prairie and then to his birthday party, a pot luck cooked by all the ranchers wives. I was so looking forward to that. We will also check the calf and make sure mom has sobered up.
I asked Cody's dad, who had been in cow birthing business for over 40 years. "It never gets old does it," as he was rubbing the little calf's head and encouraging it to stand. "No, Tom, it never does."
...Life is good. . . . .