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Monday, February 29 2016

Moonlight reflected off the frost on the cactus as a wisp of steam rose from the little foot peeking out of the back end of the cow. Her mournful bawl rolled out across the pasture. This was gonna be a long night.

As soon as I had stepped out of the truck I heard a cow bawling. Her cries pierced the night as the moon shone down on the frosty ground.

"Did you check Poppy before we left?"

Other Half assured me that he had checked the cow but that was hours ago and from the sounds in the pasture below, Poppy had gone into labor and was having trouble delivering a monster truck sized calf. Although I don't like to breed first time mothers to large breed bulls, we had the opportunity to use a nice young bull that would add some genetics we wanted, so we bred four first time heifers and one proven producer to him. Because we anticipated there might be issues, we had locked all the birthing mothers into the pasture below the house until this bunch of calves was safely on the ground. Poppy was the last one. None of the other cows had any trouble in delivery. And then there was Poppy.

She was on the dirt road at the very bottom of the pasture, as far away from the other cows and the house as she could get. Although I appreciated her need for privacy, around here, privacy will get your calf eaten. Not two days earlier I had seen three coyotes passing through in broad daylight along the very spot she had chosen to give birth.

And so, here we were, staring at a warm foot trying not to be born on a cold night. We had tossed a bale of hay to the other cows to keep them out of our way while we tried to figure out what we had. From the looks of her, Poppy had been in hard labor for a while. She was not a happy cow. Other Half slipped on some rubber gloves and pushed his hand up inside the cow. The calf was in the proper position, it was just big, so he slipped the straps of the calf pullers around the calf's front ankles and commenced to pulling along with Poppy's contractions. Soon a gigantic white head appeared. The calf's swollen tongue protruded grossly from its mouth, but it was still alive. Coyotes began to yip in the forest below us. A few more heaves and a large sloppy calf plopped into the dirt.

Poppy didn't even turn around. We gave her a minute, but the cow wasn't interested in the calf. Steam rose as we hustled to clear the calf's face ourselves. We struggled to get the slippery calf upside down to clear her lungs, then we placed her beside Poppy's head. The cow startled.

"Where did THAT come from?!!"

She stared at the calf with wide eyes, gave it a few half-hearted licks, and then decided that she really wasn't interested in this new addition to the party. Oh... shit.

The calf began to shiver violently. It was cold and the temperature was dropping. Her tongue lolled out of her mouth as she tried to process this new world she had been pulled into. We gave Poppy more time to acknowledge her baby. Nada. Nothing. So we started towelling the kid dry ourselves while Poppy watched with mild interest. She gave a few more licks, but nothing about the baby really started her engine. Other Half was concerned that she had a pinched nerve from the difficult birth. He'd seen this before and even after days of help, the cow never recovered and had to be euthanized. Poppy didn't look paralyzed to me, she looked overwhelmed. Often cows in this frame of mind just sull up. They plop on the ground and refuse to move. That's what Poppy looked like to me, but regardless of the cause, we had a cold, wet baby lying in the frost, and a mother who couldn't, or wouldn't, help it.

At this point I had already mentally taken the baby to the barn to bottle feed it, and taken Poppy to the sale barn. Other Half is much more forgiving about these things than I am. He passed it off as her being a first time mother. I pointed out that the other girls were first time mothers and they all delivered calves with no help and were immediately attentive to their calves. I reminded him that last year we had a cow actually get cast while giving birth and by the time I found her, the calf was dry and wandering around the herd trying to nurse off other cows. As soon as that cow, Delta the Flying Cow, was assisted in getting upright, that first- time mother rushed over, claimed her calf, and became fiercely protective of it. I was not buying what Other Half was selling. We may have been able to coddle cattle at the other ranch, but here, if a cow doesn't take the initiative to care for her baby, something in the woods will make a meal out of it. And then we're out a calf, a year of time, and at least $1000.

He tried to get Poppy up, but she was having none of it. The baby continued to shiver and stare at us with wild eyes. Her tongue was still so swollen she couldn't get it back in her mouth. I started calling her 'Miley Cyrus,' because of the tongue thing. Clearly Other Half had no idea who Miley Cyrus was, and because he is half deaf, he thought I was calling her 'Molly,' so he started calling her Molly. Since it looked like the calf would live, and no calf should be named after an 'almost porn' singer, I opted to call her Molly too.

I left Other Half in the pasture with Molly and drove back to the house for a calf bottle and a blanket.  Since we had just returned home from a Crime Watch meeting, and weren't dressed for pulling calves, I grabbed a pair of Carhartt coveralls for each of us, and fresh flashlights. There is an upside and a downside to semi-tame cattle. The upside is that they are easier to handle, and their calves are easier to handle. The downside to semi-tame cattle is they follow the mule like children following an ice cream truck. They had already polished off the bale of hay we'd given them when we went to check Poppy and so now they were following the mule like I was the Pied Piper. So much for Poppy's privacy. We now had an audience.

The other mothers were quite concerned about Poppy's lack of attention to the calf. Several tried to come forward to lick it. Poppy showed a tad of interest in keeping her calf away from them, but not enough to actually get off the ground. By this time, Molly was shaking uncontrollably so we bundle her up in a blanket and placed her on Poppy's side. Other Half milked out the half of her udder that he could see and we fed Molly her first meal. She eagerly took her bottle and soon began to struggle to her feet. Molly was doing everything right on her end. She staggered around a bit, and nursed some more. Poppy showed a little interest, but still nothing to indicate that she knew she was supposed to be caring for this baby. Clearly Poppy was missing the hormone that gave her this little Newsflash.

We decided that if Poppy would just get up, perhaps Mother Nature, would advise her, so Other Half did something I had never seen him do before - he smothered her. Yes! He held her mouth shut and covered her nose so she couldn't breath. I watched in disbelief. When he finally released the cow's head, she gave a shake, hauled herself to her feet, and walked away on unsteady feet. But she walked. No pinched nerve. She stopped under a nearby mesquite tree. We got Molly up and slowwalked her over there. Poppy acknowledge her with a few licks but that was it. With warm milk in her belly, Molly had a renewed lease on life, and she was determined to find that nipple and nurse. Poppy just walked away. I mentally walked her ass right to the sale barn.

Other Half insisted on not judging her yet. Give her more time. I pointed at all the other first time mothers staring at Poppy as she refused to let her calf nurse. But the argument wasn't getting us any closer to a solution. We still had to figure out what to do with Molly for the night. If we could get her to the corral behind the house, we could lock Poppy inside with her. She'd be safe from coyotes and if Poppy wouldn't let her nurse, we could just milk her out in the stocks, and bottle feed the baby there. It could work. The hitch was getting Molly and Poppy to the corral. Here's where the screaming started. We stood in the dark and argued about what to do.

"Ninety percent of all farm divorces are a result of sorting cattle."

I read this Facebook meme last week and fell over laughing because it's true, but I want to add that this could be true with any major decision regarding uncooperative cattle. I'm sure the coyotes in the dark had a good laugh listening to us yell at each other.

Poppy had started to show a little interest in the baby. Other Half felt that if we loaded Molly in the mule and drove off with her, Poppy would follow. I didn't see that happening. And it didn't. There was a lot of fighting about the next course of action. So Other Half decided that he would hop out and push Poppy up the pasture while I drove the mule and hoped that Molly didn't flop out of the back. We wrapped her quilt around her like a straightjacket and headed uphill. The entire herd followed me. Other Half and Poppy trailed behind us.

Once inside the corral, I stayed with Molly while he pushed everyone out but Poppy. God smiled at us under the moonlight because Poppy separated herself, making the task of pushing everyone else out easy. By now Poppy was a little more interested in her baby. Molly was released from her straightjacket and toddled off to her mother. She tried to nurse again. Poppy was a bit more accomodating this time. Apparently her trot up the hill had turned on some hormones. We made sure she nursed a little before we left. At least Molly was safe for the night. At 2 AM we drove out of the pasture and closed the gate behind us, leaving Poppy to decide what she wanted to do with her new bundle of joy. As soon as we closed the gate and started for the house, the mule ran out of gas and sputtered to a stop. Perfect timing. We gathered our toys and walked back to the house.

The next morning the sun rose to find little Molly with a milk mustache.

Although she won't win any Mother Of The Year awards, Poppy is allowing Molly to nurse and Molly is a determined little fighter. Yesterday when Poppy wouldn't stand still for her, I watched Molly nursing from Delta, one of the other Braford cows who is a particularly good mother.

Molly is the second strange calf that has been caught nursing from this cow, so with the addition of her own calf, that makes three calves nursing from poor Delta the Flying Cow. Clearly she has the kind of maternal instinct we want to preserve. Delta has earned her place on the ranch. It looks like as far as nutrition is concerned, Molly is gonna be just fine.

Molly is a fine looking calf, from two really nice looking parents, but in order to survive the predators around here, she will need an attentive, protective mother. Either that, or she needs to stay pretty close to Delta the Flying Cow.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 10:33 am   |  Permalink   |  5 Comments  |  Email
"Ninety percent of all farm divorces are a result of sorting cattle." Well, the other ten percent must be a result of sorting sheep. We have sheep. Enough said.
Posted by Peg H. in Wisconsin on 02/29/2016 - 11:33 AM
Peg beat me to the sheep comment.
Posted by Libbye on 02/29/2016 - 12:25 PM
You might have to share some of that 10% with us buffalo ranchers!!
Posted by buffalogal on 02/29/2016 - 04:42 PM
Goats get at least 1%.
Posted by Patty on 03/01/2016 - 08:31 PM
I am with you Patty. But I think we goat people should at least be entitled to 5% of the 10% . That leaves 5% for the sheep folks. However if one has both sheep and goats you get a healthy 10% . Apparently if you also have cattle of some sort you are entitled to a whopping 100% hope you have a good attorney.
Posted by Terry on 03/06/2016 - 11:55 PM

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