The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

It’s a Boy!

March 24th, 2015 · 1 Comment · Posted in farming


The big moment for our Jersey heifer Emily finally arrived Sunday afternoon. She’d become so swollen and leaky lately, she was literally spraying milk. Around 2:30 in the afternoon I noticed the first signs of tiny hooves emerging from her rear end. Half an hour later, next time I tromped out to the orchard to collect eggs, I could see something small and brown bobbing its head inside the walk-in shelter. On closer inspection I found mom busily licking her newborn clean. Emily was so attentive, making sure this little guy had the breath of life in him.

Any birth on the farm is a fine occasion for panic, however. Was our new boy cow healthy? Did he have enough meat on those little bones? Was he nursing? I monitored every movement against the chance that our nine months of preparations and expectations had been for naught.

The first few hours are critical for newborn calves. They must consume enough colostrum–the mother’s special milk full of antibodies–to develop an immune system. Before a day had passed, when I was there to watch, I saw the calf struggle to get a teat in his mouth. I cheered when I heard him sucking. Still, he seemed so skinny and frail. At one point I racced to the local Tractor Supply to buy a calf feeding bottle. We managed to milk a couple of pints of colostrum from Emily, and the newborn consumed maybe half. Then he rejected the bottle, walked over to mom and began to suckle her on his own again.

Miraculously, mother nature manages to find a way when human intervention fails. Having never seen a newborn calf before, this is a hard lesson to learn.

Then there is the winter that won’t quit. It’s been 10 degrees Fahrenheit overnight lately. So of course I couldn’t sleep, worrying the calf would freeze to death. My wife and daughter have named him Del–short for Delmonico. I visited him twice the first night, and he seemed fine, snuggled into the hay in the pen we built in one corner of the shelter. Mom hovered over him, making these low, grunting noises we’ve never heard before. They seem to be her special way of communicating with her calf. “I’m here,” she says. “Don’t worry, I’m here.”

During his first full day of life, Del spent most of the time lying in the shelter. But occasionally he’d get up and explore. One time I found him outside the paddock where the sheep were grazing. Emily was on high alert trying to locate him. Another time, Emily went out to graze with the sheep while Del poked around inside the paddock just opposite mom on the other side of the fence. Emily would have walked right through that fence if she could. I had to remind her it was a long walk around before she could be reunited with her boy.

It’s 10 degrees again this morning (spring was last Friday, right?) and first light is still an hour away. So of course I’m once again anxious to know whether our little guy made it through the night. Did he get enough colostrum? We have fingers crossed. Meanwhile, we have new chores to keep us busy: milking. Collecting Emily’s milk is a life altering event on the farm, and we’re doing it by hand. More about that another time.

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