A bit about cow fertility

Cows in heat Aug 17

We have moved into a new stage of watching our cows. Last spring we had to keep them under surveillance to make sure they calved safely, now I have to check them regularly to alert. make sure they are ready to be bulled.

There will be no bull, so the minute I see the signs of heat the AI man needs to be called and the cow penned. No one wants to miss the chance to get the cow in calf.

I was unprepared the first round and didn’t inform Kevin until days after, but to be fair I had not been informed I needed to keep my eye on them. After that I have been more alert and attentive.

The second round was a bit of a laugh. I will be honest and admit that while I had read up on the symptoms of the cows in heat I had totally missed out on a few details of the mechanics. Again, to be fair, it is my first go at this and somehow everyone takes for granted I tolthat I know the obvious…which I obviously don’t.

Early one morning I informed Kevin that a cow had mounted another and he immediately got on the phone to the AI man, who arranged to come in the afternoon. I put in the cow in the pen and as the afternoon came near Kevin asked me which cow I had put in.

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Checking the heat detectors on the back of the cows.

 

“Did you put in Sheila into the pen?”, Kevin asked
“What do you mean Sheila?”, I asked him slightly confused
“The one that is ready for bulling, of course. Is Sheila in the pen?”, he asked again.
“For bulling? Why on earth would I put Sheila in the pen?”, I answered.
“I told you to put her in, the AI man will be here soon and she needs to be penned”, he said a good bit irritated by now.
“You do realise that Sheila is the pony, don’t you? You mean Gypsy.” I said as the conversation finally made sense.
“I don’t know what silly names you have put on the cows. We never named our cows.”, he said exasperated.

Well sorry, but I do.

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Gypsy with her calf Atlas

We have our striped Galloway, with the apt name of Gypsy Rose Lee, for the first burlesque stripper dancer. You might have heard of the musical “Gypsy”, starring Bette Midler. She gave birth to Atlas, the white striped grey bull calf.

Oprah and her calf Goldie probably don’t need much of an introduction, as they are mentioned often enough in the blog. Oprah taught me how to milk and Goldie softened my hardened heart to cattle.

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Missy Moo, our smallest and most gentle cow.

Missy Moo, our smallest and most calm cow is a right pet. Her calf, Ash, is a lovely ash coloured bull calf that everyone finds just beautiful.

Our last cow just got her name, Nutella, but her calf is still nameless. The kids and I are a bit blank, but we will get there. All calves were sired by the same Charolais bull, and it shows.

So, I had put in the cow and not the pony into the pen, but to Kevin’s chagrin it was the wrong cow. One of the signs of heat is cows mounting each other, in my naïve logic I thought that the cow doing the mounting must have the hormones raging; never did I expect that cows in a normal state would feel the need to mount another cow just because the other is in heat.

While Kevin fretted about the arrival of the AI man, I exchanged the cows with plenty of time. The AI man literally flew in and out, the whole procedure took less than a minute and hopefully in 283 days we will have another calf.

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Nutella, she finally got named.

Another fact I didn’t know, and am not fully convinced of yet, is that you can choose a bull that can give calves that “are easy to calf”. Does it mean the calves are smaller? Are they more slippery? Do they position themselves better? And how in the world (except for size) is that defined by the sperm of a bull. I need to investigate this further, so feel free to enlighten me.

All cows but one have been in heat and are hopefully in calf. To facilitate the surveillance, an heat detector sticker has been put on every cow, just to make sure we don’t miss the chance to get them in calf and that the ones in calf really are.

The AI procedure doesn’t always take, and there is only a small window every three weeks to get a cow in calf. Fingers crossed that it all goes well, and while we might fret I am happy that the calves will not be born too early in the year. Warmer weather definitely made for easier and safer calving. So, we are holding our breath and awaiting for the signs of heat in Oprah, the last one to get in calf.

 

A life or death situation

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Early on a Sunday afternoon, one of my girls and I decided to have a look at the animals. Since our first lamb was born we have been and still are in constant suspense about the next births, whether these be lambs or calves.

In one of the more sheltered fields we could see something and decided to investigate. One of the cows lying down and as we came closer we could see two legs of a calf in mid birth. It was time to get the only person with experience, so we ran back to the house to get Kevin. My daughter easily left me behind and ran into the house panting “calf…cow…field!”

Calmly and well used to the situation, Kevin asked me to get a rope and he brought an armful of hay. The cow was lying on her side and caught in some brambles, we could see the two front legs of the calf sticking out. Grabbing a handful of hay we took hold of the slippery legs of the calf and pulled. When this wasn’t enough, Kevin tied the rope around the legs and pulled, while I pulled at the legs. Suddenly the calf slipped out and our first calf was born.

The poor thing looked wrecked but healthy. Once we got the cow out of the brambles she vigorously started licking her calf. We stayed with them for a while and felt some worry that the calf seemed weak and was not suckling immediately, as other things needed our attention we left them for a while in the sheltered and sunny field.

Later that afternoon I went over to check on the calf, but there had been very little improvement. As Kevin was out, a neighbour helped me and advised me to get the calf and cow into the shed. We loaded the calf into a wheelbarrow and tempted the cow with a bucket of beef nuts (cow food that looks similar to dry dog food).

The tongue of the calf had been sticking out since she was born and looked a bit swollen, we later realised that this was part of the problem with the inability to suck. As she had not stood up for long, she was also cold. She was weaker now than when she had been born. My neighbour generously lent us his infra-red heating lamp, which did wonders for the calf.

Once Kevin was home, he milked the cow and we force fed the calf with an empty half-pint Jameson whiskey bottle. The neck needed to be long enough to reach far down the throat as the calf was not suckling, not even your fingers when you stuck them into her mouth and tickled her palate.

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The shed became a calf ICU as we all checked on the calf regularly. Another neighbour, a very experienced cattle farmer, came over with a feeding tube. We got electrolytes to mix with the milk, which is a re-hydration solution, and had to tube her through her mouth into her stomach to give her milk. She also developed a fever and pneumonia, and we had to give her antibiotics. As she improved every time she got a bit of milk, when she looked at her worse I got up in the middle of the night to feed her.

I cannot explain the fear we had a few mornings when we woke, wondering if the calf would still be alive. What was I going to say to my girls? And how had I suddenly developed so much fondness for this cow and calf?

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Such a delight to finally see her suckling!

You might have read my post on my very strained relationship with our bullocks, my frenemies on the farm. Well, I had hoped to get a better experience with the females of the species, and I can now say I am converted. Cows, particularly these three cows we have, are lovely, calm, easy to work with and even friendly. They are still lumbering hippopotamuses, drooly and poopy, but their calm nature makes me forgive all that.

In a slow but steady pace the calf improved and finally recovered. She is a beautiful calf, a golden brown with a blond crown of curly hair on the top of her head. Once we felt secure that she was out of the woods, it was the most natural thing to call her Goldie.

There is no direct connection or symbolic meaning in the name, but we thought it would such a cool name to call a cow (not insult intended, rather a lot of admiration) that we named her mother Oprah.

Now Goldie and Oprah spend the days out in the fields and the nights in the shed. I know, I’m being a bit of a mother hen, but I dote on my girls and want the best for them. I also hand milk Oprah each morning and she generously supplies plenty for both the calf and the house.

Who would have thought it, that I would feel such affection for Oprah and Goldie. It is barely a chore to care for them, as they both recognise my voice and know what needs to be done. I also truly enjoy these few farming tasks I have each morning and evening.

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Goldie is getting an unwanted cleanup from her mum.