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Monday, January 22 2018


You get a lot of thinking done when you're walking through the forest staring at a cow's ass.

The forest was thick. The cow was in labor. I'm out of shape. If you want a weight loss regiment, try raising cattle in a forested area. You could easily hide a grizzly bear in here.

Or a cow in labor.

For this reason we check the cattle daily and look for anyone bagging up. Last week we noticed that Poppy, one of the red Brafords, was starting to bag up.

"Keep an eye on her. We had to pull her first calf."

Her first calf was an exceptionally nice heifer calf, but was presented head first instead of front feet first. This meant we had to push the calf back inside her mother, reposition her, and then pull her out like a diver - front feet first, followed by the nose and head, and then the hips just plopped on out. It was a tough delivery, but Molly greeted the world as a healthy calf.

The plan had been to lock Poppy up in the sheep pasture below the barn when she looked like she was close to delivery so we could monitor her. That didn't happen.

On the day we planned to lock her up, Poppy didn't come to breakfast. Of course not.

You know why?

Because we planned to attend a horse show that day, that's why.

Instead, we loaded up the little ATV mule with a medical bag and headed out. We were hoping to find a cow with a fuzzy new calf. What we found was a cow in labor with two feet sticking out of her butt.

"Okay, we'll just have to deliver the calf here in the forest."

Poppy saw us coming, heaved herself up, and walked off. Take that.

Thus began a slow O.J. Simpson foot chase through the ranch. Poppy didn't appear to be in any distress and we stayed as far back as possible to keep an eye on her. It's easy to lose a red cow in the brush. She ambled up and down the banks of the creek which crisscrosses the ranch, stopping to drink, reflect on life and other cow problems, and graze a bit.

At least it was a pretty day for a walk. Why weren't we on horseback? We have four horses, two of which are pretty good cow horses. Why didn't we just rope her?

The brush in this area is too thick to easily travel on horseback.

Why didn't we use the Border Collies?

Cows in labor take a very dim very of Border Collies. Since these cows are pretty tame, our presence is only mildly annoying, add a Border Collie and a cow in labor will hike her tail over her back and crash through the woods like the Incredible Hulk.

Which leads us back to my walk through the forest. It was a long, slow walk, with plenty of time to think. And as I stood on the high creek bank, looking down at Poppy who was trying to decide if she wanted to have her calf or graze, I thought about how a ranch is like the Incredible Hulk and the rancher is like Loki.

I haven't watched a lot of the wildly popular Avengers movies. I've seen bits and pieces of most of them, enough to know who the characters are, and get a rough idea of the story line. Loki is kind of an arrogant bad guy. Hulk has rage issues.  This scene pretty much sums up the relationship between a farmer and the farm. The farmer is Loki and the farm is Hulk.     Hulk Smashes Loki - YouTube

Loki is a god. He believes that he's in charge. Hulk beats the crap out of him. Then he stomps off with a backward taunt, "Puny god."

And that's exactly what farming is like.

As I trudged through the forest, pushing aside briars and branches, stepping over downed logs, hoping not to find a rattlesnake sunning himself, I was thinking about chickens.

Yes, chickens.

The week before Christmas we bought eight new chickens. Blue Laced Red Wyandottes. They are rare enough that we sought out a breeder rather than add our names to the spring list at a mail-order hatchery which sells out so fast. We drove to Central Texas in the rain and came home with eight of the loveliest birds I'd ever seen. They were 4 and 5 months old. Thus began my love affair with my own Blue Laced Red Wyandottes.

I couldn't stop admiring them. I just loved these little birds. It was just over a week later when the first one got sick. A week after that I had to euthanize her. We had our suspicions but held our breath. The rest of the flock seemed okay. The next week another was sick. Just like the first. This time we contacted our vet and Texas A&M. She was culled and her body was sent to A&M for a necropsy. The next day another bird died. Thus far, 3 or the 8 are dead.

We are still waiting on the test results but suspect Marek's disease. This means that one by one, all my flock may die. They may also infect the adult birds I already had here, my Golden-Laced Wyandottes.

Each morning I hold my breath as I open the coop door, afraid of what the day may bring.  The remaining birds look fine, but then so did their comrades before the disease snatched them. It continues to weigh heavy on my mind.

So as I followed a cow's ass through the woods, I was thinking about dead chickens, and Loki. I timed the cow's contractions. Four minutes apart. Three minutes apart. Two minutes apart. Eventually we managed to get Poppy moved into the cattle working pens where she glared at us. She clearly wanted to have her baby in the privacy of the forest, not here in public with horses and other cows staring at her.

Since the cow didn't appear to be in distress, we opted to give her some time and some privacy. We left her alone for an hour. We returned hoping to find a new baby. What we found was Hulk snatching us up like Loki.

Poppy had not already given birth to a healthy calf. The feet were still hanging out. This was definitely a problem birth. We moved Poppy into the chute. Other Half took off his shirt, lathered his arm in KY Jelly, and dove in. What he found was a train wreck.

Instead of being in the classic diver's position, the calf's head was turned way back and down. After sorting everything out, Other Half began the long and painful task of pushing the calf's legs back inside and pulling the head into its proper place.
During this time, Poppy bawled and Other Half bawled. In a very short time he was covered in cow shit, cow piss, amniotic fluid, and mud, and his arm was in a vise.

But through it all, he talked to Poppy. He encouraged her. He pleaded with her. He comforted her. I think it was as much for himself as for her. I watched all this and was reminded why I love this man. Like most men can be, on many days he is an arrogant, selfish man-child who makes me question both his sanity and mine. But as he stood there in the cow pens, covered in goo, he was my hero. And Poppy's.

Other Half finally managed to get the calf turned and successfully delivered. He immediately began CPR.  The calf was dead. Clearly his neck was broken. Other Half continued his desperate attempts at CPR anyway.  He and Poppy had worked so hard. He couldn't give up. It was futile. The calf had been dead for a while.

Thus began the second guessing. We shouldn't have waited to let her have it in private. We should have just pulled it. Maybe it was still alive then. We should have locked her up the night before. Then we would have known exactly when labor started. Or would we? We had planned to go to a horse show, so we wouldn't have been home anyway. What if? What if?

In the end, it's just like the chickens. What will be, will be. How arrogant are humans? We think we're in charge. We think we are the gods of our little domain.

Puny gods.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 10:55 am   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
I'm so sorry about your chickens & poor Poppy! Your Hulk/Loki analogy (?) is spot on. I sometimes forget and feel in control of things, get a little smug, even, then WHAM!
Posted by Heather H. on 01/22/2018 - 01:56 PM
Very apt image. As soon as I start thinking I have it under control- Hulk Smash! I hope your chickens turn out all right. It's so heart breaking to watch them go one by one.
Posted by Patty on 01/22/2018 - 07:04 PM
The test results came back positive for Marek's disease,which is what we suspected. At this point we will just wait and see how it sorts itself out and hope the rest of the birds survive. Poppy, the cow, is doing just fine.
Posted by forensicfarmgirl on 01/29/2018 - 10:42 AM

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