Philomena Peach, who we call Peach, was born here on the farm a few seasons ago. Peach has always been a little spunky. She was the first heifer (female) calf to be born on the farm. Thus, this is the first cow we have trained to be a milk cow. And, my friends, it would be an understatement if I were to say this has been easy. But, let's start with the highlight...the birth...and then I'll tell you about milking.
Peach's due date was the 25th and she conveniently calved on her due date. Cows have about a nine month gestation. The similarity between humans and bovines ends there as calves are born with the ability to stand and nurse within the first hours of life outside the womb.
Peach was artificially inseminated. This essentially mean that some dude (cause I can't imagine anyone but a dude) collects semen from a very special bull. Then, packed in liquid nitrogen, the special stuff travels to the farm and gets "placed" into our cow's cervix at precisely the right moment of time, when she's in heat. The insemination process does include an armpit deep dive into the cow to get those sperm just where you want them.
You get to choose your papa from a catalog of choice bulls with names like Zebulon, Braveheart and Gannon. Gannon was our choice....his semen was what was loaded in to the tank that day. Why not just set her up with a bull you ask? Very good question.... prior to 1940, the majority of deaths on farms with cattle were due to being gored or trampled to death by a bull. This statistic makes me question the sanity of the dude collecting the semen, but helps us to justify the use of such product and the service of the kind folks who show up when you call them to inseminate your cow in heat. There aren't a lot of bulls to be had. Most male calves are castrated and are then called steers, raised for meat.
Lucky for us, all went well, Peach settled with a calf on the first attempt at insemination. We haven't always been so lucky. We spent the winter months, while the bustle of the farm was quieter, luring Peach out of the pen and into the stanchion so she might get used to the feel of the space and trained to the routine. We rubbed her udder, loved her up, plied her with treats and introduced her to the sound of our small bucket milking machine.
The weeks leading up to her calving, we checked on her religiously. We dried off our other dairy cow, Clementine (I assure you the fruit names were not intentional). We had timed the insemination so that Peach would calve as the weather was warming up. The morning of the birth, we separated the other cows and our one old sheep from mamma as things seemed to be heating up. I had been out to the barn a handful of times that morning and then I packed the car to run some errands and head to town for a meeting and for our scheduled school carpool run. When I went out for one last check, there was a bulging bag and just the tiny tips of little hooves emerging. This is the preferred presentation for calves. Like any farmer in the 21st century, I grabbed my iPhone and starting recording the birth, while simultaneously calling John on the speaker phone, telling him the exciting news and asking for my coveralls and boots. The baby came fast. No midwife needed. My dear friend subbed in for my carpool duties for school and my afternoon meeting was re-scheduled.
The calf was quick to stand and nurse and mom was vigilant. It was heartwarming, to say the least.
The afterbirth was slow to come. I started to get worried and headed to my favorite place for all things cow, the Family Cow ProBoard. Some years ago, when I stopped practicing as midwife, I took a job as a labor and delivery nurse on the night shift to bridge our financial gap until we got the farm business to a more stable place. When all my patients were sleeping and all my charting was done, I would keep myself awake by pouring through every post on this web site. I was taking a crash course in cow as we had just bought our first dairy cow when I left my full time midwifery practice....a retirement gift of sorts.
Blessed with the honor of attending the birth of many fine babes, I have learned the art of letting mom show me the way. If we all trust, and are patient, the right thing almost always happens. My job was to be there in the event that it didn't and to help make it right. The challenge is to find the trust, know the patience and hold everyone in the light. Only having attended a small handful of bovine births....I wasn't so knowledgeable, the trust was coming more slowly. Once I had read all I could about cow placentas, I went back out to find the afterbirth sitting in the bedding, intact, healthy and delivered by mom without any interference by me. In fact, I suspect she was sick of having me meddle in her affairs.
And then, it was time to for the first milking.
Let me just say we have been battered and bruised by this dear cow. But, knowing how hard being a new nursing mom can be, the empathy runs strong. She's a kicker. But, we persevere, and each day, twice a day, we suit up and head out and hope for the best.
Sometimes in life, someone offers a little pearl that sticks with you. Luckily, this pearl had arrived a few days prior to the calving when we ran into a long time dairy farmer and neighbor at the tractor dealership. Tie up one of her legs, a front leg, that way she won't be able to lift a leg to kick you because she'll be off balance... was the suggestion. Well, I'll be damned if we didn't get the one cow who can stand on 2 legs. This girl can kick even with her leg tied up. It's been a week and we're still at it. She keeps coming out of her pen each time on her own accord to be milked. She seems attuned to the routine. We start out gently, we see if she's ready to lighten up on the kicking. She kicks every time. Then, up goes the foot and we hold her close to the wall and methodically try again to get all the milk out so she doesn't get mastitis. It's far from elegant.
This is the first week with our crew. Usually, we have a sweet cow to teach them how to milk. But, this isn't quite the cow to teach them, yet. Maybe next week.
We're optimistic, but than we have to be. Why else would be keep farming.
Blessings on the meal (or maybe the beloved fresh cream in my coffee and the wonder of birth)