It was a dark and stormy night…. Ok, not really, it was actually 47 degrees and clear. It was very muddy however, thanks to an all day snow storm the day before. But as I approached the barn I was pretty sure I heard that foreboding oboe music in the background.
Last fall we bought a little bunch of Hereford cows. Seems appropriate doesn’t it, given our last name? Anyway, they were supposed to all calve in late April/May. They started in February and dwindled all along until there was just one first calve heifer left. She is a nice big heifer and looked like she would not have any trouble. Well, of course on a night when I was home alone…..
I woke up at 11:45 pm. Slipped my on Muck Boots and dashed out to the barn in my jammies! They are quite cute I must tell you. Picture circa 1940’s white with gray polka dots and the sweetest pink piping around the collar and front plackets (just thought you’d like to have that description)!
I had put the heifer in a corral off of the barn that evening, just in case. When I turned on the light , there she was laying down with two front feet out! Four legged animal babies are born front feet first followed by the head. Therefore seeing two front feet is a good sign.
I startled her and she got up…feet back in…ugh. So, I ran back to the house and threw on my Carhartt suit. Which by the middle of May I am VERY tired of wearing. But, I had to protect those cute jammies ya know!
Back to the barn where I watched and prayed, hoping that she would have the calf on her own. An hour went by and…nope. Now, that foreboding music was getting pretty loud cuz I haven’t pulled a calf by myself in , oh maybe 30 years! And, we don’t usually calve heifers so we don’t have the facilities that makes it a little easier. And, there was also not one “human” friend or relative to available at 12:30 in the morning to help me. So, I amped up the praise and prayers and started gathering the necessary equipment used to deliver a calf.
The first step to helping a cow deliver a calf is to contain her. A head catch or squeeze chute are optimum, however a rope has been the most common tool for centuries and my ONLY option The first rope that I chose was a “kid’s” rope, too short and light weight to make the catch. Bare in mind this roping event was taking place running around a dark corral in deep mud…. I eventually found a nice head rope and caught her. Suddenly, that real gentle, grain munching sweetie, turned into a 1000 pound ski boat with me flailing along behind praying that I wouldn’t fall down!
Ok, now I needed to get her slowed down and close enough to a post under the roof where it is dry and to take a few “wraps” with the rope to stop her. ( I bet you wish there was a video version huh?) Well, after about 17 laps around the corral, I managed to get my wraps taken and got her stopped. However, she still had about 15 feet of rope between her and the post, allowing her to now become a 1000 pound wrecking ball swinging back and forth. I needed to get her “snubbed” up closer to the post. This usually isn’t too hard for two people. One takes the slack out of the rope while the other one “shushes” her ahead….still alone. Finally, after considerable pulling and the waving of my free hand, I got her up to about 3 feet of rope away from the post and decided that would have to do. I tied off the rope making sure she couldn’t get away and proceeded to the other end to see what could be done.
Besides that good rope, there are a few other necessities needed by the barnyard midwife. The first being these enormous plastic OB gloves. The design and fit of these have not changed in my whole life. They are still two sizes too big for a large man, let alone a small woman. Besides trying to get your hands on those feet while dancing on the end of that 1000 pound pendulum and dodging her slimy deadly tail aimed for your face, you have to continually fight with the OB gloves giving you the dexterity of a penguin!
(the pictures are a little shaky…but you get the idea!)
Then there are these chains which are about two feet long. Russ used to have some nice nylon straps which were much easier….couldn’t find them? Anyway, the idea is to get a loop of the chain around each of the calve’s two feet. You have to create a loop by threading the chain through a larger ring at the end. Both ends are like this. You have to make the loop, and slip it onto a very slimy foot now tightly wedged back inside the uterus of the “wrecking ball pendulum”, all the while dealing with those ridicules gloves! One trick is to make the loops and put them on your wrists like bracelets. Then deftly slip them off of your wrists onto the calve’s feet, again while still doing the a fore mentioned dance. Which I was attempting when a Baxter Black poem came to mind.
Baxter Black is a retired veterinarian turned cowboy poet. His poems are usually based on a real life experience. So, this guy sneaks up on a cow having trouble calving out in a field. He has the chain around his wrist. He is able to slip one end onto the calve’s foot. But, while the other end is still on his wrist the cow jumps up and takes off running across the field with the guy dragging along behind!
I was pretty sure I had my girl tied up good but I had to giggle about Baxter’s poem. I managed to get the chain on the feet and knew that the calf was alive as he was fighting me putting them on. The next step is to use these little handles hooked into the chains to pull the front feet and head out. I had remembered to put the chains in my pocket but had left the hooks just out of reach on the fence. I didn’t dare turn loose of my chains or they would fall off and I’d have to start all over. So I had to pull with just the chains wrapped around my hands. Pulling a calf is HARD and sometimes requires a puller. A contraption kinda like an old fashioned car jack….or some amazing super human strength that you just come up with to save that baby! “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13
We did it!!
It was 1:00 in the morning. I was tired but so excited! I had wanted the Lord to just have the cow deliver the calf on her own. I was scared of getting hurt or failing. But as I ask my Divine helper for assistance, laughed at the situation, and rejoiced over the cutest live calf, I realized that He often takes us “through” the valley so that we can experience the joy in the morning!
Later when I was back in bed, I said to the Lord, “thank you for all of the help tonight.”
He said, “thanks for asking.”