Daisy had a baby! So… this happened really all of a sudden, or as “all of a sudden” as something that takes nine months can happen.
Backing up: Daisy’s last calf was Leila, in 2014. Daisy is always a bit challenging to breed back, but in early 2015, when it would have been time to start trying to get Daisy pregnant again, I was in the midst of dealing with my health baloney and I didn’t want her to be pregnant. I had stopped milking her because I didn’t have the energy (Leila was big enough at that point to take care of Daisy’s milk output on her own) and I couldn’t deal with the responsibility of Daisy calving again until I got my health back on track and reached a more functional state of being.
Last summer, we brought our bull Billy in to breed the cows and heifers that spent the summer here at home. (The majority of cows and bulls spend the summer on the mountain.) Billy is daddy to all the calves I’ve shared here this spring – Ixchel, Sid, and the rest – and he also got Leila pregnant for her first time. It was possible that he had bred Daisy, too, but I wasn’t terribly confident that it happened. It usually takes Daisy several cycles to finally get pregnant, and after about three months of having Billy in with the cows, we had to move him out again. One of the neighbor’s cows showed up and climbed through our fence and Billy bred her (I watched it happen) and we moved him out that very day. Because cows can have STDs.
There’s a bovine STD called trichomoniasis (“trich” for short) which causes cows to spontaneously abort, and it was not worth the risk to keep Billy in with our cows until we had him tested again. Since it takes a couple of months of dormancy for trich to show up on tests, Billy was out of work for the season. Mike was convinced Daisy had been bred, but I was skeptical… until earlier this spring, when it became apparent she was making milk! I was overjoyed. And I guess I didn’t fully believe that she was actually, truly pregnant until quite close to the end of the term, because I was going to post about Daisy being pregnant, but she had her baby before I even could.
A week or so ago, I started obsessively checking on Daisy and Leila for signs of labor. With angus cows, it’s pretty easy to tell when the time is near just by looking at their udder, but Daisy’s udder keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger and it’s not a great indicator. This happened to be the case with Leila, too – she has Daisy’s genetics in that department, more so than Fiona, and her udder also kept getting bigger and bigger. Fast forward to Friday night: the sun was setting and all the cows were eating near the house and Mike and I went outside and, at exactly the same time, we turned to each other and said “Where’s Daisy?!!”
I found her off by herself in a draw. This is what cows do when they are close to having their babies. I lured her all the up to the house with treats and put her in the yard for the night, so it would be easy to check on her – Daisy’s last two calves had been breach and I was not going to rest until I knew all was well. I checked on her hourly till midnight, then at 2am, then at 4am. Nothing was really going on through the night, but at 4am, I got the sense that I shouldn’t wait another two hours to check on her again. So I checked on her at 5am, and she had hooves sticking out – and they were the correct direction! And I rejoiced, because the calf was not breach. And not five minutes later, Daisy lay down and had her baby in the light of dawn.
And two hours later, within sight of the yard but off on her own, Leila had her baby, too! Perfectly and easily.
I named Leila’s baby Pixie because she is so little and cute. And I named Daisy’s baby Roxy, which is a variant of the English variant of the French variant of the Latin variant of the Persian word for dawn. And Sid might get his own happy cow family after all…. but that’s a story for another post.
Little known cow fact: Cows (and bulls and calves and steers) lick the air when they are being scratched in a way they love, like a dog kicking the air with its leg. I filmed Leila while I was scratching her back. Caution: my video skills continue to hover in the D- range and my animal voice is ridic – save your eardrums and set your volume low!
I am convinced that Leila is a barrel horse trapped in the body of a cow. She loves to run and race and turn tight corners at high speeds. And she loves to kiss. It’s still very difficult to get photos of her – she’s either running at top speed or in my lap.
She and Jupiter have become fast friends. Most black Angus (Jupiter’s breed) have pure black ears, but Maia has red-gold edges on her ears – Jupiter inherited them, and they match Leila’s.
Leila’s coat is strange and amazing. She is still every color: black (stripes down her back and belly, and around her eyes, mouth, ears, and hooves), gray and silver (the insides of her legs), brown and red (her head and sides), and pale blond (her neck and chest). Wild.
It’s been a very strange year here, a strange year for me. So many contradictions that actually aren’t; everything in everything. I doubt my words make sense – I’m still making sense of it all – but Leila is an embodiment of chaos that is actually pure love, and all the things that appear to be impossible contradictions that are actually perfect puzzle pieces working together.
It has been really hard to get proper pictures of Leila! Part of this is the weather – photography takes the back seat when it is 107°F at 10am and there are a day’s worth of chores (and milking!) to cram into the few cool hours at dawn and dusk.
And part of this is Leila – she is far too excited about being in a body to keep that body still for a photograph! She shows off with a few rounds of little bucks, all four feet leaving the ground at once, then races up to nuzzle my face and neck – she is like a little puppy! Our new favorite trick is for me to sit on the ground and scritch her chest between her front legs; she will then reach over my shoulder and scritch my back with her baby teeth.
When I step away, hoping to fit her into the camera frame, she dashes over.
Most of my photos look like this:
Daisy is so in love.
Thank you for the suggestion of a middle name.
I’m off to milk!
On Wednesday, Daisy looked like she was getting very close to calving. I checked on her a dozen times throughout the day; each time, all she wanted was more hay and she didn’t show any of the telltale calving signs – the cocked tail, the mama moo, licking her belly. Mike and I went out to dinner and when we got home, I was ready to crash – I had been getting up at 3 and 4 am all week to catch up on office work – but first I went to check on Daisy one more time. And lo and behold, her tail was cocked, she was licking her belly, and mooing the mama moo. No sleep for me!
It was obviously still very early in the process, so I laid down on Baby who was chewing his cud in the adjoining corral and let her be for about an hour. Towards the end of that time, she lay down and really began to push, but then she stood up again. I went over to check things out, and saw a hoof sticking out (this is normal). But I was looking at the heart-shaped bottom of the hoof rather than the shiny smooth top. It was a backwards calf, again. And my vet was out of town.
I cried. I did. I was just so frustrated and sad and tired of everything being so hard and heartbreaking. The last calf Daisy had was backwards and though it was born alive, it died five days later. And the whole thing was extremely hard on Daisy, physically – it took her over a year to recover and get pregnant again.
I called Mike and by the time he got to the corral, the hoof had receded back into Daisy (this is also normal), so we gave her time alone to walk around and get further into labor while we figured out a plan. Mike has pulled dozens of calves over the years – sometimes a heifer needs assistance with a normal birth or a calf is too large for a cow to do it on her own. But he has always taken backwards calves to the vet because they are potentially fatal for the calf. And my vet happened to be in Colorado.
The danger with a backwards calf is that the head comes out after the umbilical cord breaks – and when that happens, the baby is compelled to take a breath. If it takes a breath while its head is still inside, it will suffocate. When pulling a normal calf, you can take your time throughout the pull (within reason) because the head and front legs come out first. With a backwards calf, you have to power through an already awkward maneuver to get the chest and head out as fast as possible.
Mike did not want to pull this calf. He was so concerned that he would fail and the calf would die, so he started brainstorming this person or that person to call to come do it, until finally I said, “Mike, you know the mechanics by heart. You’re physically in better shape than any of those people. I trust you more than I trust any of them. And I’d rather have something go wrong with you than go wrong with one of them. We’ll do it together, and I believe we can do it.”
And so we went up to Mike’s house to get the calf pulling equipment, which consists of a small chain that loops around the two presenting feet and a large grooved bar that hooks to the chain and braces against the cows hindquarters. Once the chain is attached to the calf’s feet and the bar, you ratchet out the calf. It sounds barbaric, but I think it’s less gnarly than forceps (which happens to be how I was delivered).
While Mike was gathering the gear, I saw the top of the moon peeking up over the mountain. Since Frisco died, I’ve been able to feel him when I see the moon (and only then). As the moon rose into sight, I asked Frisco to please help us. To help the calf, to help Daisy, to help Mike and me.
Back at the barn, we did a dry run with my wrists in the chain to make sure the calf puller was working perfectly. I gave Mike one last pep talk. We put Daisy in the head catch to stabilize her, and got the chains around the calf’s hind legs which were now both visible. Mike started ratcheting, slowly at first and then quickly after the hips, and when the calf’s torso emerged, I grabbed it in a bear hug and pulled hard with Mike and the calf slid out – alive!
We laid her head-down on a slight decline and I immediately suctioned out her nose and mouth. Mike brought over the oxygen tank we keep on hand for emergencies and while I held the oxygen mask over the calf’s nose, Mike let Daisy out of the head catch and she rushed over to lick and lick and moo to her new baby. After a few minutes on oxygen, the calf moved her head away from the mask, clearly done with it and ready to sit up as Daisy licked her dry. Soon, the calf was trying to stand, and licked her lips and the air, ready for a teat. Wobbly, as newborns are, and with extraordinarily long legs, it was a bit tricky for her to grab a teat – she was so tall, and Daisy’s full udder hung so low! With a bit of assistance from Mike and me to guide and stabilize her, she had her first meal at 2am. We all were feeling very happy and ready to rest.
I was still nervous, since Daisy’s last calf was born alive but didn’t make it, but I’m not nervous anymore. Leila (which means night in Arabic) is so full of life! She bucks and hops and races in circles around the corral and runs up to me for for kisses and pets. She’s gorgeous – proper pictures coming soon – and though she appeared pure black when she was wet and slippery, she is actually every color. Her hair is black, gray, silver, brown, and red. She looks like obsidian, like oxidized silver, like moonlight.