How To Spring a Calf

Some people know it's spring when they see asparagus and rhubarb at the market, or bunches of daffodils in the neighbor's yard. Maybe they celebrate by planting potatoes and peas on March 15.

It snowed in Wallowa earlier this week and there isn't a flower in sight, but we know it's spring because we're welcoming a new crop of calves.  

Mostly, cows handle the birthing process on their own. We don't have to pull calves often, but sometimes the birth isn't going as it should, so we try to assist.  Take cow #292.  She's a three year old and this is her second calf.  She's been in labor for several
hours and her calf's feet are showing, but she's exhausted and has given up.  We make the decision to bring her to the calving pen. Dave begins by fastening what we call "pulling chains" to the calf's feet.  He pulls with each contraction.  

He isn't getting anywhere, so I put down the camera to help him.  Even with both of us pulling, we aren't making much progress and we start to worry about the calf. We get the "calf puller." This medieval looking contraption operates like winch.  We hook the chains on to the puller and slowly crank the winch. The cow grunts.  Finally the nose comes, then we can see the calf's tongue sticking out.  We
pull hard, desperate to help it take its first breath.  Finally, his head comes out and he gasps for air.  He's alive!  We keep  pulling and slowly, and after we get the shoulder out, the rest follows easily.  He hits the ground with a thud and we release his mom from the pen.

Now I can take out my camera again.  Cow and calf are both visibly stressed.  They take a few minutes to check one another out, and very soon, #292's instinct kicks in and she begins licking her new baby. 

He's slower than normal, but in half an hour he's on his feet, nursing.  It isn't exactly how we hope for births to go, but we're really grateful that this one turned out well. 

A bunch of daffodils, a pile of morels, daily deliveries of new calves--it's all spring to me.

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