I pulled my first calf today! Without any help! At. All.
Before I explain the whole story about what happened today that led up to pulling the calf, I will explain what “pulling a calf” means for all my non-ranchy readers.
Pulling a calf means exactly that. You loop special chains, rope, twine, or whatever is within reach around the calf’s ankles, and pull. You have to be careful though, because if you pull downward to much you can cause the cow or heifer to prolapse. I will not explain what prolapsing is right now, but suffice it to say that it is a very bad, very disgusting thing that almost always results in the death of the cow.
Sometimes cows, and especially young ones (heifers) will have complications while birthing their calves. This is the most common with heifers who are having their very first calf. Sometimes the calf is coming out backwards, which is a called a breach birth where the calf’s hind feet are comming out first. Breach births are very dangerous, but if you see it early enough in the birthing process the calf can still be saved.
Sometimes a calf could have one leg turned back, or their head turned back, which makes it impossible for it to make it’s way through the birthing canal. Without help, the calf and cow will die.
And sometimes the calf is simply too big for it to be born without assistance. This is common with heifers, especially if they got bred to a large bull. A young cow is considered a heifer until she has had her third calf, and by then they don’t usually need assistance, but we monitor all of our cows closely for problems.
Now that I have some basic calving knowledge out of the way, I can begin the story!
We keep heifers that are close to calving in the barn in a pen next to the chute, so that we can easily help them if they have trouble. As soon as I got home from school today, I went into the barn to check a heifer that has been very close to calving for several days. Dad was a couple hours away selling calves. As soon as I walked up to her pen it was obviosouse that she was calving, and it was not going well.
I could see the tips of two feet, but she was straining harder than she should have had to, and the water bag was broken. (After the water bag is broken, you have about 45 minutes until that calf suffocates and dies) I had no idea how long the bag had been broken, and it was clear she was going to need help if in the next 20 minutes she didn’t show any progress.
Heifers can be remarkably stupid, and she was no exception. She kept laying down with her butt against the fence, so there was no way the calf could come out. I kept moving her away from the fence, and after about 5 minutes, the feet were out as far as the ankles. But then she layed down against a fence in such a way that it pushed the calf back in, and she refused to get back up.
Well now I really have a problem.
So I grabbed a lariat rope to try to loop over the calf’s feet to help her pull it out, but because it’s feet got shoved back in the heifer, I couldn’t get the rope on. So then I ran and got a set of calf chains, and untied the panel she was up against so that I could pull it away enough to have some room to work.
Now I had to get the chains over the calf’s ankles that were now inside the heifer again.
If you have a queasy stomach, stop reading now.
I made a loop on one end of the chains, draped it over my fingers, and stuck my hand inside a cows slimy butt. Yes, it was gross, very gross, but I didn’t notice that at the time. My focuse was on the fact that if I didn’t get that calf out quickly, it was going to die, if it wasn’t dead already.
Finally, I managed to get the chain over one foot! With the chain over one foot, I had to hold it tight to keep it from comming off while I tried to get the other end over the other foot. (Holding the chain is usually my job when dad is the one sticking his hand in there)
After a few minutes of strugging and hoping the heifer won’t get up just yet, I finally had both ends of the chain on both feet! I could feel the calf trying to pull his foot back, so I knew it was still alive, but I still didn’t know how long the heifer had been trying to have him before I got there, so as far as I was knew I only had minutes to get the calf out before it died.
Now that I have the chain on both feet, I looped the lariat rope I’d tried to use earlier to the chain in the middle. Keeping tension on it, I wrapped the rope around a pipe on the frame of the chute that is only a few feet away, hoping she will stand up and pull the calf herself. The heifer just laid there, barely pushing, and I decide that it’s time for me to start pulling.
Just as the nose came into veiw, she stood up really fast and I lost the grip on my rope enough for her to take a couple steps forward without any tension in the rope. But as soon as I got ahold of the rope and the calf’s feet were pretty much tied to the chute, she stopped walking.
I only had the rope wrapped once around the pipe, so if anything went wrong, all I had to do was let go of the rope and the pressure would be released to avoid injury to the calf or heifer.
She stood there and strained to push the calf’s head out, and I’m pulling for all I’m worth but she still can’t get it out past the nose. Just when it looked like we might be making some progress, the stupid heifer quits and plops back down!
I tied off my rope and ran over and pried the calf’s mouth open so it isn’t biting it’s own tongue off, and I tried to work one hand inside the heifer to see if I could help the head slip through. I have small hands and even I couldn’t get more than a couple fingers in there. The poor thing just didn’t have any room. Now I’m trying to keep the calf’s mouth open and trying to pull at the same time. Things would have gone a lot easier if the heifer hadn’t lain down in a way that pinched her hips together to make it even harder for the calf to pass through!
After a minute or two of me straining, she finally gives one good push at the same time I pull, and we got the calf’s head out! This is really good, because now the calf can breath a little bit! Not very well, but it could keep it alive long enough to get the rest of it out.
It would have been easy going from there since in the same push that loosened it’s head, pushed its shoulders through too. But no, heifers can never just cooperate! The stupid thing stood up just enough for the calf to swing a little, before she plopped back down! If I hadn’t been standing right there and grabbed it in time, she would have laid down on the calf. That would most likely have suffocated and killed the calf. But luckily I got ahold of it, and pulled it around just before that could happen, while profusely using the words, shit,damn you nit wit, and another word I am positive I will be scolded fo later by my mom.
Finally, FINALLY, she gave one more good push while I’m pulling as hard as I could, and the calf comes all the way out!
Now the heifer won’t get up, and another heifer is trying to claim the calf.
So I moved the other heifer out, and got the new mom to stand up, but she wants nothing to do with the calf. Instead, she sticks her head through every hole in the fence and tries to get out. Typical stupid heifer.
I just stood there and said to myself, “Well aren’t you just wonderful! I just spent an hour helping you have that calf, and you want nothing to do with it.”
It took me sending a dog after her to get the idiot to get motherly enough to even sniff her calf! After half an hour, she’s barely licked it, and the calf is trying to stand. It became even more apparent then, that she was not going to mother it. She kept head butting it, and kicking it anytime the calf tried to come near her.
So I put her in the chute, opened the side gate, tied her leg back so she couldn’t kick, and guided the calf to her udder. Then I stood ther to watch him nurse for a good 20 minutes before I let the heifer out of the head gate and stood there for a few more minutes to make sure she wasn’t going to try to hurt her calf, before I was able to go to the house and wash my hands.
All of this took me over two and a half hours and I was still in my school clothes, and I hadn’t had anything to drink since early in the morning, and I was starving.. By the time I got into the house it was almost 3 o’clock. (I get out of class at noon and it takes me about an hour to get home)
So I washed my hands about a million times trying to get the smell of calf slime and afterbirth off my skin before I heat up some leftovers. I got a little food on one finger so naturally, I licked it off. Apparently I did not wash my hands enough…
THAT WAS THE MOST DISGUSTING THING I HAVE EVERY TASTED IN MY LIFE AND I’VE TASTED ROTTEN CHEESE FLAVOURED JELLY BEANS!!!!!
My hands still stink, and I’ve washed them so many times the skin is as dry as sandpaper!
But anyway, if you have made it all the way through this post, Congratulations! You’ve just completed a crash course on assisteing a heifer having difficulties while calving!
Seriously though, this was a really long, really boring(to most people) post, so thank you for reading!
I can’t post videos on WordPress yet with the membership that I have, jut there is a really funny video of the calf trying to walk on my Instagra, Cowgirlsavvy98. Come check it out sometime. I’ve been posting most of my pictures on my instagram now.