Feb 3, 2013

It was a brilliant, clear and sunny day in February. I was drinking coffee, researching cow milking equipment, killing time before church started. At about 9:20am, my phone rang.

"We're having a baby!" exclaimed my breathless sister.

"Are you sure?!"

"Yes!! I can see two hooves and a tongue!"

"I'm leaving now!!"

Frantically, I scurried around the house, changing clothes, preparing a to-go cup for my coffee, and grabbing rope - just in case (I had been told by the rancher who sold me the cow that they would tie a rope around the feet to pull the calf out, in cases when it comes breach).

I drove as fast as I dared, making my way the 25 miles to our place in Ben Wheeler. I was certain I'd show up too late to see the baby being born. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

I arrived to see my sister and her family, watching the poor miserable Clara Bell #15 from the other side of the fence. By now, it had been an hour since Jennifer first noticed signs of the birth. We watched as poor Clara would get up, wander around, flop back down, groan miserably while straining. We all wanted desparately to hold her head and comfort her, but she wouldn't let any of us near her.

I figured we just needed to give her more time. So, Jennifer and I went for a walk, discussing the property and future plans. Aftere another 30 minutes had gone by, we were all pretty nervous. It was past time to call the vet.

We began making calls, but of course, on Super Bowl Sunday, getting a call back proved nearly impossible. The only person who indicated a willingness to help us was Dr. Collins from the Edom Vet Clinic, and he was 45 minutes away in Tyler, and tied up until mid-afternoon with family obligations. He said he could come out by around 3pm if we needed him to. We decided to keep calling.

Exhausting all other options, I called Dr. Collins back.

"I can't get anyone to return my calls", I said.

"Well, give me 30 minutes, and I'll make arrangements to head your way. Have you tried to pull on the hooves?"

"No, she won't let us near her."

"What do you mean? She's in a chute ain't she?"

"No sir, she's in a pen.'

"Well, how do you expect me to get close to her? She needs to be in a chute. I can't chase her all over the pen."

My greenness was definitely on parade here! However, he turned me on to the right idea - we needed to construct a chute. So, gathering gates, panels, wire, fence posts, and anything else we could find, we quickly constructed a makeshift squeeze chute. With all of us working together, we managed to drive her up in there and secure her in a standing position. Unfortunately, all of the ruckus caused the hooves to retract - one step forward and two steps back :(

With Clara standing in our homeade chute, we began to calm her down, talking to her, touching her, feeding her. Eventually, she settled down, and I could see a hoof again. In fascination, I polked and prodded at the hoof and surrounding areas. Then, I worked up enough nerve to tug on it a little - Clara responded immediately with a push of her own. I began to get a glimmer of how this process might work. Emboldened, I reached further up the hoof and got a solid hold and began to pull. My brother-in-law, Scott, continued to coax and encourage her, and we were rewarded with a few more pushes.

By now, I was fully committed, and quite empowered. I reached further up inside to see what else I could do to encourage the process. I could feel the elbows, the nose, and then, wonderously, I found eyes and the rest of the head. It was as if I could see inside, observing what barriers were holding the little guy back. As I explored, several more contractions occurred, giving me further guidance. By now, both legs were completely out, and the full head was becoming visible. It was becoming clear that some serious force was necessary to get this thing the rest of the way out.

Remembering what my rancher friend had told me, I sent Jennifer to retrieve the rope from my truck. I slipped a knot around the hoof, above the ankle joint, and Scott kept traction on that leg, while I pulled the other. By now, Clara's mooing had taken on a low, desparate quality.

With Scott and I giving it everything we had, we pulled and pulled and pulled. Finally the calf was out to the mid-section, with only the hind feet still inside. One of our greatest fears was relieved as we saw the eyes blink, and the nose wiggle as it began to breath. One last burst of effort was all it would take now.

Pulling the rest of the way was relatively easy - one solid tug and the calf was fully out. Everyone was elated and overjoyed. By now, it was about 1:30pm.

Newly Arrived Calf

"Boy or girl?", someone exclaimed. I look and found it to be a boy.

The initial battle had been fought and won, but we were not out of the woods yet. It is essential that the newborn calf be able to stand and nurse as soon as possible. As another hour crawled by, we began to get concerned, because he was not moving around at all. He made no attempt to stand or find food. We would again have to intervene.

Thus began the process of waiting, coaxing, and praying that the little guy would stand up and nurse. Clara showed wonderful maternal instincts as she lay down beside him, cleaning him thoroughly. But cleaning is not enough to prevent starvation. We began to periodically pick him up, encouraging him to stand, discouraged at each fall.

At around 4pm, I was in the stall alone, watching and praying. Suddenly, he stirred. I watched in awe as he struggled to gain his feet. As he took his first tentative steps, I couldn't hold back the tears. I praised God for the wonder of His creation, and thanked Him for His help. Another victory!

But our ordeal was not over yet - he still had to learn how to nurse. Fortunately, he had very strong instincts and knew exactly what to do. The problem was - Clara was not too interested in feeding him. As he would get almost close enough to latch on, she would step back, turn around, occasionally knocking him down in the process. Maybe Clara's maternal instincts needed a little work after all.

Scott and I began to follow her around the pasture, attempting to keep her distracted and still while the poor little guy searched in vain for the nourishment he was so desparately seeking. Eventually, we had her cornered, and were able to keep her still. It took an eternity of hunting around, but he finally figured it out. Those sucking sounds were a cry of triumph I shall not soon forget.

Overall, it was an extremely stressful, yet incredibly rewarding experience. We look forward to the days ahead, watching him grow, play, and become a thriving member of our fledgling herd.