Five household items needed during calving

By Vicki Hyatt | Jan 12, 2014
Photo by: Vicki Hyatt photo A newborn calf lies alone because it's first-time mother doesn't have a clue of what to do.

During calving season, there's at least five household items that come in handy when things go awry at the barn.

We're calving heifers this year, something Rich and I haven't done since our days on the Beartooth Ranch in Columbus, Montana, decades ago. Our initial operation didn't include raising a next generation to mama cows since our primary business is selling beef directly to consumers.

When cattle prices got so high, we decided we could use animals raised on the place to replace the older cows cycled out of the herd, so that put us in the heifer-calving business.

The first one came early in the morning Jan. 2. I jokingly told my colleagues this might have to be our New Year's baby to feature in the newspaper since the local hospital wasn't coming through with our traditional Baby New Year.

During his 4 a.m. rounds before going to work, Rich found our first heifer to calve off in the pasture alone with its water broken and one front foot already emerged. He called our son, Cole, and woke me up since it  was apparent she'd need a little help.

The fellas got her in the barn and got the chain and calf puller ready. My job that morning was moral support and holding the flashlight. The birth was a hard one, but mama and baby came through it fine. We came in for breakfast and upon our return, found the heifer hadn't paid a bit of attention of her offspring. The calf hadn't  been licked clean, let along nursed. When Rich helped the baby up to nurse, the new mama simply kicked here away.

Since he needed to get to work, he mixed up a powdered substitute for a cow's first colostrum milk and got it down the bull calf via a tube. Later, we put a halter on the heifer and tied her to the fence corner post to help her understand her new job as a mother. It was touch and go for the next 48 hours, but the calf was strong and soon just ignored the kicks. If the cow walked away, he followed and got his milk. That problem was no sooner solved when the cold air hit and another calf was born.

This time the cow prolapsed (when the uterus comes out with the calf) and couldn't get up. The calf was several feet away and barely moving. Rich brought her into the garage and I got out my blow dryer (household item No. 1 needed for this situation.) We also set up my electric heater in the garage (household item No. 2) and got bath towels to dry her off (household item No. 3).

We again mixed up a colostrum formula to give her some quick nutrition and started wondering how big she was. That's when household item No. 4, a tape measure came into play. There's a formula showing how much a calf weighs based on a measurement just behind the front legs. Turned out the calf was 31.5 inches, or 85 pounds, a larger than desired heifer calving weight. The last step was to find several warm blankets (household item No. 5) to keep her warm as we watched her progress.

Unfortunately the mother cow died, so now Cole has a new task to add to his yearling and chicken-tending duties. He's taken on the task of bucket feeding a newborn, who seems to have come around after a difficult entry into the world.