Calving 2020

While most of the world has stood still, the cows (and the humans) have been as busy as ever here. So, I thought it was time to give you a recap of this year’s calving season, complete with some calf spam to brighten your day!

CALVING TIME

Those few, long, months each year which seem to fly by.

The culmination of 9 months of waiting and preparing.

The build-up of excitement as udders begin to fill and the final calves from the previous year are weaned.

The sleepless nights during the first couple of weeks, as we subconsciously clock-watch and repeatedly check the calving cameras, convinced we’ll be needed or a cow will momentarily forget how to be a mother, despite all her years of experience, and a calf will be left unwashed or unfed.

And then, we pull ourselves together- after most of the first ones prove they’re quite capable of doing it alone (mostlyToo Posh To Push brigade, I’m looking at you).

We relax a bit, remembering to trust in the cows we’ve chosen to keep, and their natural, maternal instinct, which won’t evaporate overnight.

And we come to the realisation that it’s much easier to deal with any problems which crop up during the next 12 weeks on a full night of sleep.

A chocolate brown, Bazadaise cross, 1 week old calf with no ear tags, laid in a bed of straw.

Each year begins the same. Then, we seem to settle into a routine. With my dad doing a final check for imminent signs of new life at midnight, then just giving the cameras a glance over if one of us (or a friend, who also has the cameras linked to their phone) wakes during the night.

If you haven’t caught on by now, the CCTV cameras in the sheds are lifesavers- literally, at times!

HOW THIS SEASON WENT

I covered our very rocky start, arrival of a foster calf, and initial flurry of twins, back in February (you can find it here).

Since then, there thankfully hasn’t been any more twins, but Essie, who lost her calves, did end up developing a uterine infection from some retained placenta. Her body struggled to keep producing milk while she was ill, so her foster calf, Bluebell, needed some extra milk from other cows.

It proved harder than we thought to get the stubborn madam to feed from someone else, and all parties were very happy when Essie recovered and began to regain her milk.

Bluebell has thrived ever since, and her chunky, black and white frame can be easily spotted across the field, usually glued to the side of her mother, who is now back to full health.

On the calving front, things were running smoothly, with most cows greeting us in the morning with a milk-filled, blow-dried, shiny, new calf.

Any first-time mums were kept separate for a week or so, just until we were sure they could keep track of their offspring (a seemingly difficult task for some). But all the others joined the quickly expanding group yard within a day, ready to be led astray by the older calves; one of whom, quickly became a serial offender when it came to escaping…

Every morning, he’d be found bouncing around the shed with the pregnant cows (the giveaway he wasn’t a newborn being the bright yellow ear tags he was sporting), and on an evening, he’d be exploring the farmyard, always with a different sidekick. His ‘gang’ and confidence grew with each new arrival.

A caramel coloured, 1 week old, Bazadaise cross calf with no ear tags, laid in a bed of straw.
Houdini himself

Of the few born during waking hours, I had the privilege of getting to see two of their arrivals, in person, for the first time in over 8 years- and even broke the thick sack one of them was in! It was completely magical to get to be a part in the miracle of new life again.

In previous years, a mixture of the pesky, plan-wrecking illness I live with, and not having my trusty powered wheelchair to grant me access to the farm outside my window, has meant I’ve only been able to watch it all unfold through a screen.

I’m not sure I can explain how grateful I am to the two cows who calved during ‘Holly Friendly’ hours and days.

A newborn brown calf, covered in birthing fluids, laid in straw with its red mother stood behind, licking him.

MEMORABLE IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE

If we thought the plain sailing was going to remain, we were mistaken.

Every year brings something new to the table.

Last year’s was having to help every heifer (first-timer) to calve, when usually, we hardly have to pull anything. The year before, it was our first ever c-section, after over 25 years of calving cows here. And this calving season? It brought the profuse, neon, scours (diarrhoea) of Rotavirus along for the ride (apologies if you were eating then).

WHAT’S ROTAVIRUS?

  • The most common cause of severe diarrhoea in beef calves.
  • Usually striking between 1 to 2 weeks of age.
  • The diarrhoea causes severe dehydration, so giving fluids containing electrolytes is essential and the key to survival.
  • As it’s a virus, there’s no antibiotic treatment, but just like in humans, there is a vaccine- only, because we hadn’t ever seen it on the farm, we didn’t previously vaccinate against it…

We ended up with 3 cases who, thanks to the TLC given by my dad, have all made a full recovery.

The final one developed a secondary infection, which is always a risk when their immune system is compromised by the virus. She needed some antibiotics and a little more time than the others. But after a couple of weeks inside (much to her mother’s disgust- she couldn’t understand why she had to miss important grazing time just because her calf was at death’s door), she’s now returned to the field with all the others.

The lasting effects seem to be confined to a permanent distrust of my dad, who will never be forgiven for repeatedly taking her rectal temperature… As long as she remains fit enough to scarper when he approaches, we’re happy.

Luckily, when we realised it might be rotavirus, we vaccinated all the tail-end calvers (who’s due dates were more than 3 weeks away) to put an end to this year’s spread. They pass the immunity onto the calves through their colostrum (first milk), and touch wood, all the ones from vaccinated cows haven’t shown any signs of illness.

A light sandy coloured, 1 month old calf, feeding from the udder of a deep red cow.

THE END IS IN SIGHT

So, there we were, quite chuffed with ourselves. Everything was healthy again, a second calver who had a momentary maternal instinct malfunction had decided that yes, she would feed her calf, after all, and most were out in the field, enjoying the Spring sunshine.

We’d ended with 33 calves out of 31 cows (thanks to the aforementioned twins), and finished more than a week earlier than last year. A very unexpected result, since the pregnancy scanning in November indicated a lot due in May. They clearly decided to pick their own calving dates this year; only 4 waited until the final month.

But it seems, calving is not quite finished, after all.

MORE FIRSTS

At scanning time, you might remember we found our overzealous bull had got some 6-month-old heifers in-calf, and we had to have their accidental pregnancies terminated as they were technically too young to safely calve.

It turns out, the termination only worked in 2 out of 4 of them- which became apparent when their buyer found the other two’s udders filling with milk. So, home they’ve come to calve.

The first has already given birth, with some help, to a dead calf.

Not the result we were hoping for, but we were mostly just relieved the heifer was completely unfazed and unharmed. As my dad worked to try and revive the calf, she returned to the side of her friend without a second glance. It was as if she knew he was gone. We now have a good idea of why he was born dead, but I’ll cover that in another post.

The other is due any day, hopefully we’ll be able to save both lives this time. Then, we will finally be able to say Calving 2020 really is finished- unless some more surprises come our way!

2 thoughts on “Calving 2020

  1. We raise a few batches of day old dairy bull calves each year, and you can almost guarantee that at around day 7 they’ll start scouring from the rotovirus. It’s so common in dairies. Then once one gets it they all get it. I found out the hard way that humans can also get it, which made for a few miserable days.

    Liked by 1 person

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