Three of our cows (Moon, Leek, and Noodle) were due to “freshen” (give birth, in dairy-speak) this week, and all three got increasingly enormous and began to waddle as their due dates came and went. Everyone on the farm team kept saying that they were waiting for the full moon, and like clockwork, all three gave birth today. When I came into the barn at 6am, I peeked into the maternity pens, and there was a hoof sticking out the back of Moon! When I came back inside a couple of hours later, Moon had given birth to a beautiful, alert heifer, and Leek was in the throes of what proved to be a long and painful delivery. Calves are supposed to come out with their two front hooves first, followed by their head, and finally by the rest of their body, but this calf had only one hoof and his head in the birth canal, so our herdsman had to reach in (arm deep!) and shift him around so that he could be delivered safely. Poor Leek also “let this one cook too long” and boy, was he big! She was in labor when the first people came into the barn at 5am, and her whopping baby bull was finally born at about 1pm, and we literally had to wrap chains around his hooves and pull him out. We were all anxious for both the mom and the calf, but everyone seems healthy, if a bit tired. The last cow, Noodle, finally gave birth during afternoon milking.
I remember being really astounded and moved, watching my dog, Nori, give birth a few years ago,
and I have been really excited to learn more about calving while I’m at Hawthorne Valley. I have been told that calving doesn’t usually involve this much human interference, and during the summer when the cows spend their days and nights in the pasture, more often than not, the farmers won’t even witness the birth. To me, this makes the process all the more amazing; they really just figure it out on their own. All three of them were walking within an hour or two, and without much prompting, Moon’s calf was nursing and even frolicking around a bit. It’s wild how they are born, a little shaky, but ready to meet the world.
Quote of the day: “Competition and innovation have indeed solved, for the time being, the problem of production. But the solution has been extravagant, thoughtless, and far too expensive. We have been winning, to our inestimable loss, a competition against our own land and our own people. At present, what we have to show for this ‘victory’ is a surplus of food. But this is a surplus achieved by the ruin of its sources, and it has been used, by apologists for our present economy, to disguise the damage by which it was produced.”–Wendell Berry in his 1989 essay, “Nature as Measure,” found in his collection, Bringing It To The Table: On Farming and Food