I love farm life – the simplicity of it – the self-sufficiency of it – the joys – the satisfaction of it all!
Last week was one of those times I was ready to throw in the towel! Not on the whole life but on certain aspects You have probably experienced the same feelings – oh, please tell me you have and that I am not alone in this!
Calving & The Joy of Life
We experienced one of the greatest joys last week – the birth of a calf, Backy. It was a difficult birth for Hilde, our family milk cow. During the birthing process we realized that the calf was breech – he was coming out backwards, bottom first, hence, his name, Backy! Creative, right? 😉
When John and the boys began pulling Backy out, we actually thought he would be born dead. We were all so excited when he was alive! He is adorable, eating well and big!
At the time, we knew he was big but didn’t realize how BIG – he weighed 98 lbs! Can you imagine giving birth to a 98 lb calf? I am so glad I’m not a cow!!!
When we bought Hilde, she had already been bred (impregnated) with a Brahman bull which is a large meat breed. At the time, I was reassured by the seller that this particular bull had been used before with his dairy cows and there was no problem.
Hilde being a Jersey – Brown Swiss cross was not able to deliver a Brahman calf safely. She got up after calving fairly quickly and cleaned Backy, nursed him and cared for him through the night. The next morning, however, she was not herself and we knew there was a problem.
For those of you who have your own family milk cow, during the pregnancy we did have her on a low protein diet to help prevent the calf from becoming too large. Unfortunately, that does not matter when the cow is bred to an unsuitably large bull.
Milk Fever Prevention
After Backy’s birth, we gave Hilde a calcium supplement to help prevent milk fever. Milk fever is a reduced level of blood calcium and usually occurs in the first days of lactation when the demand for calcium for milk production exceeds the body’s ability to mobilize calcium reserves. It is more common in dairy cows and especially Jerseys.
Being a cross, Hilde was not as vulnerable to milk fever but all breeds can get it so, my motto is “better safe than sorry” and we gave her calcium.
So, the morning after calving when we realized something was wrong, we gave another dose of calcium and I called the veterinarian to come out and check her. Waiting for the vet to come, we also gave her (upon his recommendation) a shot of Banamine which is for fever and general pain.
After what ended up being about 7 hours of waiting, the vet arrived. He began working on Hilde and gave:
- Cal Dex CMPK Injection – given intravenously
- Dextrose Solution – given intravenously
- High Energy supplement – propylene glycol, amino acids, vitamins and iron
- Cal-Mag-Co – calcium, magnesium and cobalt
He left with a “now we wait and see” – ugh! I am not patient by nature and this was not what I wanted to hear! ;(
During the day, we had her in the milking parlor which is out of the cold and wind. Since the the temperature was to drop to 9°F, we rigged up a heat source using our smoker and a charcoal fire. It kept the milking parlor nice and warm. John and I got up throughout the night and added more charcoal to the fire and somewhere between 2:30 am and 5 am, Hilde died.
For those of you who don’t have a family milk cow, it may be hard to understand how someone could get attached to a cow. And, I would never have dreamed that I would be one who did. But, I am and it is so sad and I still cannot believe she is gone.
According to the vet, the 9 months of gestation with such a large calf took too much out Hide and she could not physically recover. Although she appeared healthy, she was drained of all her reserves.
We are now bottle feeding Backy and he is doing great. He can fit under our hot wire fence and loves to be with us when we are outside. After taking his bottle, he follows us to the door and thinks he should be allowed to come inside!
As difficult as this has been, there are several lessons to be learned.
1. Although I want to shield my children from all types of pain, pain is a very real aspect of life. I would much rather them learn it here at home so we, as parents, can lead and guide them as they deal with and respond to painful situations. This is character building, real life schooling.
2. Don’t breed or buy a dairy cow that has been bred to a larger meat breed bull. It is common sense and only puts the calf and the cow’s life in danger.
3. Be prepared when keeping a family cow. I felt like we were prepared having the calcium and Banamine on hand. For our next cow, my level of preparedness will be raised a notch – I will keep all the meds that the vet gave to Hilde on hand and give them myself much earlier without waiting for him.
We are looking for another family milk cow and you can be sure, I will share pics as soon as we find one.