A different take on the original quote from Alexander Pope’s “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”
It’s that time of year again: It’s time for my husband and father-in-law to put on the mantle of “cow midwife” and assist with calving. It’s a little earlier this year, due to the heifers. The cows are set to go after that. I think there are about eighty cows. (?) Right now there are about twenty heifers (for all you city-folk, that’s the bovine term for first-time calver) who need to be monitored about every three hours in order to make sure all goes smoothly. I really don’t have anything to do with it, except the fun part of going with the kids to see the new and adorable acquisitions. I tell David that I don’t want to hear anything about it, and warn him to “just wear the gloves.” I’ve seen the medieval-like contraption otherwise known as a calf-puller, and I’ve seen it used. It’s sometimes necessary and horrifying, and is probably a huge relief for the cow/heifer to get the calf out in any way at that point, but I’d rather not have anything to do with it.
But calving is fun, especially as the weather starts to warm up. David gets into the pickup and heads out first thing in the morning to see if there are any new little “bonuses” dotting the field. If there are, they each must be tagged and–if it’s a bull calf—banded. Again, for any city-folk, banding is the new, gentler method of turning the bull calf into a steer calf. Do I need to spell it out? A little rubber band-like thing is stretched out with yet another medieval-looking device and the, um, cojones of the calf are put through it, then the bander is released. Known as “little green cheerios,” they serve to cut off the blood supply to the said cojones, which eventually shrivel up and fall off.
Male readers, you can relax now. The graphic descriptions are over, and male and female readers can both thank the stars that we’re not bull calves or cows.
Two days ago twins were born, but one was born dead. The living twin, though, is so small and cute. The kids decided that its name should be “Blackie,” for obvious reasons. (David kindly pointed out that probably all of these calves would be black…) It’s so small that it’s barely tall enough to nurse. The kids, of course, know all about nursing. Eliza, in particular, finds this fascinating. It’s not at all weird to them, and lactational topics are probably a little too familiar to them, as one time in church I heard Linus say, “Lord, have nursey,” instead of “Lord, have mercy.” Ahem.
Something about calving that always amazes me is the importance that the calf be up and nursing within an hour after it’s born. If the calf doesn’t get the colostrum (the first, nutrient- and antibody-rich thin, yellowish milk) it will likely die. If the calf hasn’t sucked within the requisite time, it must be “tubed” and given store-bought colostrum. (Tubed: a long, plastic tube is placed down the calf’s throat, and the colostrum is poured down it.) Now, I’m not meaning to lecture, here, but hey, it’s my blog. The part about this that confounds me is that many times we don’t extend this same courtesy (minus the tubing, of course) to our human infant counterparts. I’ve always said, even if you don’t plan on breastfeeding, at least get them the colostrum, for heaven’s sake. Lecture over.
The only thing more delightful for the kids than the calves is sitting in the pickup and watching Dad being chased by the occasional cow that resents these sorts of attentions upon her newborn. I, myself, am not so sanguine when it comes to this occurrence; cows can kill people if they’re mad enough. But Linus and Eliza share no such qualms. We’ve all been coached about what to do if we’re ever unlucky enough to find ourselves in this situation. Don’t run in a straight line, try not to get your back against a wall, always remain near a fence or pickup, and always try to keep one eye on the cow. Easy, huh? I’ve always said one must have nerves of steel to be de-balling a calf while the cow is standing there sniffing your neck. I guess that’s why it’s not my job.
And the other thing about calving season is the hilarity that seems to hit my husband as we’re driving around in the pickup monitoring the maternity ward. He just can’t seem to help himself, making statements like, “Can you imagine doing THAT after you have a baby?” regarding the frequent feasting on of the afterbirth (the “cleanings”) by the cow after the calf is born. No, David, I cannot, but thanks for giving me the mental picture. I’m going to go retch, now. Another thing that always gets brought up is the fact that the calves are up and running around mere hours after they’re born. “It took you over a year to do that, Linus.” And on and on.
I’ll take some pictures of this process sometime and post them. It’s really interesting. But I’ll spare you the afterbirth and little green cheerios.