Spring Babies, At School, At Home

A hands-on visit at school!

Spring Babies to School

Taking our farm animals to the local elementary school is pretty high on my list of things we want to do.  Especially the young ones… they appeal so much to the kids. We took three calves (2 beef & 1 milk breed), as well a 2 mini-horses to the school.

On the Trailer, to the school

The calves were from 2 days to 6 weeks old. With a neighbor’s help, we loaded them up and a short trip later, they were out on grass being introduced to the students.

It was a chance for the kids to talk about, see, touch, and learn about real livestock. They get to see them pee and poop! call to their mothers, to their friends.  Get tired & lay down to take a nap!

They are able to check out the mini-horses in great detail, as mini’s are busy eating fresh “playground”… and of course, leaving some fertilizer behind as a “thank you”!

I like taking the smaller creatures because I think they are more “kid-friendly” size… as well as having a naturally built-in “baby” attraction that we all seem to have in our make up. We are drawn to babies and want to “nurture” them.

Great Discussions!

We talked about how soon after a calf is born, can it walk.  Guesses from the 3 & 4th graders ranged from hours to days to weeks.

A chance to actually touch a calf

I told them that the calf is born with hooves that are very soft… too soft to walk on. They look white at birth.

Newborn Lowline Calf, still hasn't stood-up yet!

The hooves are soft so that they don’t hurt the mother when the are being born. It’s like having your hands in water for a while; your fingernails get really soft. But as soon as they are exposed to the air, they begin to harden up.

In nature, the calf need to be able to stand, within 30 mins usually, and navigate to the udder to nurse, within a few hours at the most.

There is a “key” window for the calf nursing.  The best is within 2 hours, but 4 hours at most.  That is when the calf’s gut is open to absorbing the immunities that the mom passes on to the calf.  If he does NOT get that special milk, he will tend to be very sickly and not grow well.  It’s important for him to nurse as soon as he can. After 4 hours the gut changes and begins to lose the ability to absorb the larger molecules. By 12 hours that door is completely shut.

We always try to have some of that special early milk (colostrum) saved up in our freezer if we have a baby that has a problem with nursing or a mom that can’t produce the milk.  It’s good for calves, colts, kids (goats), lambs, etc!

This is a “real world” experience.

group discussion, and then hands ON!

It’s amazing what a great time we had talking about the livestock, with the kids. I was impressed at their questions and how much of an in-depth explanation they where able to take in.

They were very excited about learning about all the things that actually come from the milk the jersey cows produce.  They were able to name off quite a few items besides milk; cheese, butter, yogurt, whipped cream, ice cream, but NOT actually chocolate milk! Well, not the chocolate part, anyway. I think it made it very real to them.

As their teacher said, “Most kids see the world through books, pictures, TV, movies, video games, cartoons, computers…. but never REAL, in life!”  I was told that last year, when we brought animals, the kids talked about it for weeks.

first steps of newborn calf

Spring Babies on the Farm

Today we had newborn calf just suddenly appear… I love our compact pastured beef livestock.

They do their JOBS so well.  They convert the green grass and hay for their food energy.  They get pregnant, at the drop of a hat, and then proceed to calve with hardly a murmur. And smart enough to do it on clear, sunny days, for the most part.

Interestingly, the cows/heifers synch their cycles!  What that means is that they will all deliver about the same time.  We had three newborns this week!  Unlike commercial farms we don’t use medications to make the cows ovulate at the same time… but in nature, at least with the Lowline Angus breed, they do it themselves.

Safety in Numbers

Now WHY?  This is a comparatively old breed, Aberdeen Angus, so I think the older drives are much intact. In the wild or out on extensive pastures, it is actually safer to calve at the same time… and it’s usually early spring.  Why would that be safer?

Coming out of winter, the predators are looking for food, and young livestock are a perfect meal.  If there is only one calf… the chances of it being “prey” go up significantly.  If there are a dozen calves, then there is safety in numbers and the odds are YOU will not be dinner.  And by the time predator comes back, the calves are older and able to manage escape! Mom’s who tended to cycle together had more survivor calves. Outliers (those who delivered at odd times) did not have offspring with as high a survival rate.

Bigger is Better, NOT

I feel so sad when I hear stories from other farmers/ranchers who talk about their difficulties.  Having to get up in the middle of a (of course) cold, windy night (or freezing sleet night, or howling winds), … to help a birthing cow. In their stories it NEVER happens on warm, sunny days, mid afternoon!

Calf puller, for those that are too large for the mother

They also have these horrific looking devices to attach to a calf and pull it out, found at your local farm supply store. For those “Too Big Too Deliver Syndrome” calves!  Our calves weight in at around 40-55 lbs.  Standard or large breed calves weight in at 75-120 lbs AT BIRTH.

We have never lost a calf or mother, at birth because it was too big or badly positioned, which is sadly not true of the typical large beef breed ranches. But then, we only have at any time, 5 – 15 cows…

But many ranchers are beginning to see the advantages of the smaller calves, especially for their first time moms (AKA a heifer – never had a calf). They use Lowline Angus Bulls to decrease the size of those calves to make for very easy births! They lose fewer calves and their night’s sleep are NOT interrupted. Makes for a much happier farmer/rancher.

A breakfast surprise... new calf

But for us… Our experience, as our new intern said, “Oh, I was feeding this morning and an extra calf showed up!” I think Big Momma has delivered.

We were able to finish our morning coffee; then go out to see if we had a boy or a girl!

What a life… just love it.

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Calf on the loose – A Subverted Milking session

Chocolate is usually quite amenable to going into the milking trailer, and if she seems to balk a bit… a little shake  of a scoop of grain has her right up to the head stall & feeding trough! Not today… she hemmed hawed up to the entrance, and then backed off.  Her tongue reached out as far as it could to dip into the scoop but no amount of tempting her, would get her to come in.  And then I looked a bit closer. UGGGGH.

milked out

Deflated udder

When one wants to milk the milk cow, it really helps if she has some milk to give! I realized that Chocolate’s calf had been left in the paddock with her, with the morning feed, instead of being left in the main pasture.  We have mom & calf together at night.  At just under 4 weeks I want the calf to be able to nurse during the night and early morning, when it is cold.

Jim does the early morning feeding (ah, what a husband!) before he heads in to work.

Usually, the mom & calf are separated (calf left in the main pasture), and then I milk mid-day, or thereabout. Her udder has filled and there is a “pressure” that needs to be relieved.  Between the grain, high-end hay, and the udder pressure, she is usually very happy to get milked. But not today; in the rush, the calf and mom were together and I’m sure his tummy was quite full ’cause Chocolate’s udders were pretty deflated.

calf on the loose

Calf, tummy full of milk!

Discretion is the better part of valor!

I decided this was one battle I did not need to fight.  But as I was getting Chocolate BACK into the pasture, the calf slipped through the gate, to the outside.  OK… chase the calf, or finish with Chocolate. Whoops, here comes Bessie.

Decided the calf would not go far from mom… so dealt with getting Chocolate back into the pasture. All without Bessie slipping past me… she would LOVE to go to the milking trailer for all those goodies… but she hasn’t delivered yet, so no go. As a standard jersey she was very used to getting grain, in the old days.

So let’s see… here I am, dancing around with three cows trying to get them elsewhere. I just take a deep breath and laugh.  The sun is shining, the momma hen is out with the chicks, and the day is good.

And then…

Under Mick's watchful eye, baby chicks

Phacelia checking out the chicks

My current assistant (10), a young chicken entrepreneur(she has a flock of 9), has stopped by to see what is going on, on the farm.  She volunteers to help me out.

Sad that she doesn’t get to help me with the milking, she is more than happy to help me collect eggs and socialize the calf!

One of the best parts of the farm, letting kids (and adults) have the “experience” of a farm.  Our chickens are free-ranging (oophs, watch where you step!), the mini-horses, and the cows are fair game for interacting with.  Only the hogs are kept contained; one boar and two gilts. (Gilts are female pigs that have never birthed piglets. After they have their first litter they are called a sow.)

But back to the calf… he is having the time of his life running up and down the fence line that separates him from his mom. But oh, what things to explore.  He’s checking out the turkeys, the benches, the chickens, and down to the mini-horses. After 30 minutes of playtime, he’s quite easy to “walk” to the gate.  I barely get it open and he slips through, back to mom.

Phacelia making friends!

Calf socialization in progress

Interestingly, cows have pressure points and if you know the “points” you can move them fairly easily, as long as they are not scared! It’s important to move slow and be MELLOW! You just stand about 45 degrees to the left or right of the REAR of the cow, and move slowly toward them. They will move away, generally in a straight path. How close to the rear of the cow depends on how well they know you.  So the calf is “in training” and he responds very traditionally to the “pressure points” and we are able to walk him to the gate entrance.

We went on a round-up one time… a real-life cattle roundup, to bring the cow-calf pairs in from the range.  It was time to brand, castrate, vaccinate, etc.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-40 cows.   All the horses were brought out and everyone mounted up (except me… I was helping with the medical supplies) & 92-year-old grandpa, just recovering from heart surgery, was in charge (but NOT allowed back on a horse, yet). He was one tough guy… and quite together! This was his cattle ranch.

kids, adults, all have "jobs"

All hands on board to help out

A 4×4 was sent out with its usual load of hay, which brought the cows into the vicinity.  And then the horses surrounded the cows and moved them into the paddocks. Gates closed… sorting and work began.  James & I just looked at each other. We could have done the same thing, without the horses.  Just pressure walked them into the paddocks. But as someone pointed out… NOT NEAR AS MUCH FUN for all the horsemen (kids, etc). It was a big annual event/party. And the chance to practice roping & cutting skills. The horses were definitely a BIG asset when it came to catching and pinning down the calves.

bringing a calf down

Round-up in action

On our farm, we do things a bit differently.

  • We don’t brand… we ear tag.
  • We don’t vaccinate because our livestock don’t travel (no fairs, shows, etc) so they are not exposed to “bugs”.  If there was something endemic to where we live, we would vaccinate. The horses do get vaccinated for West Nile, spread by mosquitos, which has shown up in our area.
  • To convert bull calf to steers, we band when they are very young.

But we are able to do things this way because we are a very, very small operation. Size changes the methods of operation. Size, numbers, skills, tools at hand, staff, temperament, all factor in.  On each “farm” there is a lot of trial and error, to find the best fit. Farmers and ranchers are real life problem solvers on a daily basis, which of course, makes things quite interesting!

Here on The Heritage Farm, we’re still fine tuning our operation.

This morning, we are a little low on fresh milk and cream… but we had a VERY satisfied calf yesterday, I’m sure! But I’m learning… and fine-tuning our set-up.

Practicing eating!

Caught a picture of our little bull calf.  His muzzle was dripping with milk but he slipped around mom, up to the hay feeder where all the cows were munching away.  He nuzzled up to the feeder and took a bite to check out what everyone was up to.

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At this age, he is beginning to practice eating forage.  He still does not get much nutrition from it, but his gut is being colonized by the bacteria he will need on board, to help digest the cellulose (tough fibers). That’s what makes ruminates (cows, goats, sheep, etc) such useful creature.  They can take forage on land unusable for crops, and convert it to food.

At birth, the four parts of the cow’s stomach are not “active”.  Milk is shunted to the last stomach; the only one that can absorb nutrition from the milk. A calf lifts its head up to nurse, which shuts off the entrance to the other sections of the stomach.  Calves that are fed from a bucket, with their heads down, do NOT shut off that entrance and tend to be very sickly; despite getting milk. They are NOT getting the food into their system.

Commercial cattlemen finally figured out they needed to raise the bucket up and the calves would be much healthier. Such a small observation of how mother nature works, made a huge difference in the health of calves off their moms.

Calf stomach compartments

As small amounts of milk & microbes, from the practice chewing/eating gets into the rumen, it becomes colonized with the different microbes that will handle different types of forage. A different group of microbes for grass, for alfalfa, for orchard grass, or teff, or blends. Once all the areas are colonized, the four compartments have very specialized functions. After eight weeks the calf’s rumen should be fully functioning. The rumen, his bulk storage container where food is first inoculated with microbes to break it down, will grow 25 times larger from birth to adulthood.

One of the things we do is transition any feed changes slowly, over a week or two, to give the microbes a chance to catch up! Otherwise we end up with cows with very “liquid” deposits!

Food/Forage management by poop analysis, would be a “polite” way to put it.

Newborn calf doing well!

Our area got hit with over 6 inches of rain!!! It quickly creates a river that runs between the house and the barn, and pools into a shallow lake in the pasture.  We’re quite lucky that the pasture area drains fairly quickly.  Despite it being winter this was a relatively warm storm.  No freezing temperatures.

Glad that our newborn calf had a few days of warm, dry weather before the start of the rains.  He handled the change in weather without a hitch.  Kicking up his heels and playing…. instead of curled up in a miserable lump as I fantasized.  It’s a pretty human characteristic, to super-impose our reactions onto animals.

Barns are mostly for people… for storing items like tools, hay, feed, etc. We don’t use the barn for our livestock. Overall, it’s not healthy for them.  Cows, horses, etc. prefer the outdoors and tend to choose a tree or windbreaks for their shelter.  Livestock closed up in a barn are at risk for respiratory problems… the build-up of manure and urine produces fumes that are irritating to their lungs. They have survived for tens of thousands of years… outside.

Well, except for our chickens who are closed up inside the barn at night, but only because it was a convenient place to put an enclosed cage to protect them from predators. Not that THEY needed the barn. It could be in a chicken tractor, outside. Now, our weather here in coastal california is rather mild.

We don’t have drifts of snow for livestock to dig through, looking for food and water.  Instead our chickens, turkeys and guinea hens roam freely, except at night, where we have closed down The Heritage Barn Chicken Buffet that a Red Fox, last year, helped himself to.

The calf did not miss a beat… he frolicked and played in the rain. His coat is thick and water-resistant, seemingly untouched by the steady rain.  We had three days, off and on, of rain.

halter, calf, train

Halter Training

Of course, then it came to the time to put a halter on the calf and get him used to being led around.  You can see from the picture how excited he was about this new adventure. He actually acclimated rather quickly and our intern was able to led him around the pasture.

Niki, our intern, also discovered the easiest time to put the halter ON.  When the calf was napping!

They are almost dead to the world.  You can do just about anything to them and they don’t wake up.  And mom has usually parked the calf, for his nap, and she’s gone off to eat so she’s not there to run interference in putting a halter on her baby.

We’ll try to lead him around a short while each day… and spend time with him, socializing.

Then he is let off the lead rope, races over to mom, and get’s a comforting drink of milk!

Newborn calf’s first steps, pt 2

The calf finally balances enough on his little legs, to actually MOVE around!

Newborn calf’s first steps, pt 1

http://youtu.be/xzGXjXBI-SI

You can hear the pig in the background… he was SO curious about what was going on!

Calf delivery..lots of pics, graphic

We were getting a bit worried that the calf had not been born yet, the weather forecast was calling for rain, in a few days.  All these warm, sunny days had been perfect for a newborn but we were going to lose that window.

But Jim came in from his morning rounds to tell me to get ready…                                camera, coffee, and coat!  Chocolate was pacing around the pasture.

early labor? pacing

Pacing around the pasture

She moved behind the trailer, behind the truck, behind the barn. Never staying long, and not eating… early contractions? She kept lifting her tail head. More mucus discharge.

Bessie watching out for Chocolate

Bessie keeps a close eye on Chocolate

Bessie was following a short distance, keeping her company the whole way.  The neighbors cows came over to stand by the fence, watching her carefully.

If you didn’t know, birthing time is of great interest to all the other livestock!  Often they come peek around the corner to see what is happening.

Chocolate finally chose to go into the barn paddock stall.  Jim closed her in so she would have a protected area to move around in.

Paddock where Chocolate settled

Paddock for the delivery area

Our intern carefully spread fresh straw down so that the calf would have a “soft landing”.  Two interns had just finished mucking the stall area out the day before… . perfect timing.

Our boar hog in the next pen kept watching and pacing, quite curious about what was going on.

Jim made a few phone calls to alert neighbors that the big event would actually be happening!

Early active labor

Jim gives some TLC to Chocolate

This Jersey birth was quite strikingly different from our lowline angus beef cows.  Much longer process, 1 1/2 hr.  But it makes sense.  Beef cows tend to be out on rangeland, or large pastures.  They are at risk for predator attacks.  They don’t have the luxury of a longish labor.  Those livestock would be dead and their genes NOT passed on.

Beef cows do what I call, “The Stop and Drop”!

Milk cows have been domesticated for thousands of years.  In a protected environment those quick genes were not quite as critical.

Chocolate got up & down, moved around between contractions.

laboring & the chickens stop by for a visit!

Chickens drop by, as Chocolate labors

She finally chose to lay down and completed her labor in that position.  She would thrust her upper rear leg out as she had a contraction and slowly began to push. Nothing to see… just a contraction, a push, and then she would stop and chew her cud for a few minutes.

The important thing is to remember to stay out-of-the-way! Let nature take it’s course.

And finally, she began to push and I had the delicate job of explaining why seeing poop was a GOOD sign.  That as the calf moved through the birth canal, the rectum runs above the birth canal.  As the calf move through and out, it was also pushing out any stool left in the rectum… it meant we were getting very, very close.

some of the observers...

Watching the delivery, from the barn

It was an awesome experience (we had from age 6 – 60 watching).  I think birth is one of the most mesmerizing things to watch.  Our barn setup is excellent because one side is open to the lower stalls.  It’s for ease of taking the hay stored in the barn, and being able to toss it into the feeders, just below.  Perfect viewing platform to be OUT of the way and yet see what was going on.

It’s time!

All of a sudden, more mucus, a tinge of blood, and then a bubble emerging… the bag of waters.

white filmy membrane, bag of waters broken

Bag of waters broken, finally

Under the pressure, it suddenly burst. Clear fluid and the path was lubricated for the calf.

Next contraction and we were seeing a tiny hoof peek out and then pull back.

a hoof, at the birth canal

First sight of a hoof

Over the next few contractions, we would see more of the hoof and then finally a 2nd hoof… a good sign.

Calf was in a good position (only one hoof might mean a leg twisted back that would impede the delivery).

two hooves showing

Two hooves showing!

Beautifully, the beginnings of the muzzle appeared. Perfect position for an uncomplicated delivery.

calf's muzzle

The beginning of the calf's muzzle are showing

Another contraction and the head was through.  Amazingly, the calf shook its head… long ears flopping.

Delivery Done!

Birth is complete!

Over the course of a couple of contractions the calf’s body slipped through, and suddenly he was there.

Breath held we waited, waited to see him actively take a real breath.  No active movement, but watching carefully you could see his ribs rise and fall.  But at first, no movement… scary.

Two of us nurses, again, having to fight the impulse to jump in, and stimulate the calf to breath, to rub it dry. Instead, having to just watch.

Laying perfectly still...

Is the calf OK, He's so still?

Amazingly, Chocolate immediately got up and started lick her calf… vigorously.

This flaccid little limp frame of a calf was a little scary.  Was he normal? He looked like skin and bones.  But the more his mother licked him, the more active he became… and the healthier he started looking!

Finally, I breathe a sigh of relief when see him lift his head, a spontaneous movement on his part.  He’ll be fine.

the calf begins to move!

The Calf begins to move!

stimulating by licking

Mom is quite vigorous at the licking!

His soft white hoofs were hardening up now that they were exposed to air.

At birth, they are soft & pliable.  Think of fingernails after washing dishes or taking a bath.  Makes sense, cause a sharp hoof could lacerate the bag of waters or the uterus or the birth canal.  He did not even try to stand for the first 30 minutes, but the hoofs were quickly firming up.

He begins to stand

Attempting to get his balance & stand

His little legs spayed out as he would try to stand… from legs slipping away from him; ok, try the back legs… same thing.  But wait, rest, and try again… all the while mom is licking him so vigorously she knocks him around a bit.  She’s cleaning, drying him off, getting the “birth smell” removed so he will not be a target for predators. Her instinctual behavior is amazing to watch.

almost up on all four feet

Almost Up!

He finally gets a bit more control and is able to stand, taking his first wobbly steps, he actually begins to explore the world around him. Amazing curiosity.

Jim approaches the calf, carefully. The calf IS curious and wobbles over to him.

Calf checking out Jim

Who's that stranger???

Mom isn’t to sure.  She lets out a mooooo-o-o.  Jim stays very still and just holds his hand out for the calf to sniff.  Mom is OK with this.

And then the calf decides to take off and explore the rest of the paddock… our visitors have moved the back area of the ground floor paddock so that they could see what was happening.

A world to explore

The Calf take off to explore!

The calf takes off to check these new creatures.

WHOOOPS, I’m thinking we might be in trouble with mom... but no, as long as we stay still, and the calf does the approach she is OK with this.

We had a great groups of folks who moved slowly and quietly… did not bother mom at all.

 She just follows him, still getting a lick in when she can! He is beginning to dry and fluff up… getting that cute fawn look to him, with those big eyes staring at you.

The next big step… for him is nursing. He needs to get that first milk, the colostrum, in his gut before the first 6 hrs are up.

Calf looking for the teat

Beginnings of the search for the Teat

But he’s got time.  Born at 11:30 and exploring the world by 12. Now that is some action.

It will actually be another hour before he is able to find and latch onto the teat… again, much slower than beef calves.

Dried off and his fur fluffed up, he is so soft to touch. a gentle calm little creature.  He’ll be a great addition to our farm stead. He’s turning a light golden color… Hmm, now a name?

And at the end of his first exploration… he collapses… and takes a nap.

Napping

Getting ready to Nap!

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No Calf, yet….

You’ve heard of the watched pot! Well, we’re walking over to neighbors for dinner… maybe she’ll decide the pressure is off and will go ahead and do the deed.  Actually, her due date is Jan 19th! But really, I can’t believe she will hold on that long though.

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