Finally, the April showers today are rain and not snow. It's been a rather cold (and white) beginning to spring so far. But it is spring, and so we're getting busier every day now! Last Sunday, I was hoping for a relaxing day to recharge my batteries from the business of the Farm to Table conference. It was a nice idea, but as Dan came back from the barn after morning chores, he told me that Lil was unmistakably in labor. Lil is the older Dexter cow we bought last summer, and we'd been suspecting for a few days that she was getting close. We had decided to move my horse Sara from her roomy box stall and put Lil in there to give her a safe, clean space for her and the baby. Sara was moved over by the pen currently holding the sheep with young lambs, on the other side of the work horses. It seemed to bother Dixie more than Sara, as Dixie had a spell of kicking at the divider wall and in Sara's general direction. Other than a bit of confusion when it is time to come back into the barn in the evenings, Sara has been fine with the new arrangements; as long as her food is there she is pretty flexible! Lil also seemed fine with her new home, the cow that had the biggest problem with being separated from her was Buzz. He is a Holstein-cross beef cow we've raised up here, and the cow that has been on the farm the longest as of right now. He knew his herdmate was missing and called to her for several hours before calming down. While that's not totally surprising, the fact that the noisy cow was not Bernard, Lil's baby from last year, was. He, however, seemed fine without mom since he's a big boy now and still with the other cows he knows.
Lil is 13 years old, and has had quite a few calves in her lifetime. Dexters are known for not needing assistance, and this delivery was no exception. After the baby was born, Lil right away began talking to it, licking it, and showing all the motherly instinct that you could hope for. She's a sweet cow, and very used to both Dan and I , so what happened next was a bit of a surprise. Dan went to pick up the calf to check its gender and dip the navel in iodine, a general practice for any farm baby (iodine helps to prevent infections from manure or anything that might get on the navel). Lil was not impressed and began pawing the ground, shaking her head, and threatening to charge Dan right into a wall if he didn't leave the baby alone! We left them alone to calm down, since Lil was in a safe clean area. When we came back in an hour or so, we "tricked" Lil with a bit of feed and tied her up. She was not too happy, but we safely found out that we have a little Dexter boy, and he sure is cute! He's growing by leaps and bounds already in the past week, and Lil has pretty much returned to her normal, friendly self.
Lil and calf, less than an hour old
Our newest farm baby, a few days old...have you ever seen such a good-looking calf?!?
While I usually don't tolerate aggressiveness from any farm animal, and will happily eat anything that tried to hurt a person, this is one exception I'm happy to make. We want the mamas to want to protect their babies, and there is simply no substitute for good mothering instinct. As long as they calm down in a day or two, a little over-protectiveness isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's far better than the opposite-nothing is more frustrating that seeing an animal (I've seen it here with both goats and sheep) that give birth, then think the baby is some foreign creature to abandon. Mom won't have anything to do with baby, and it becomes an orphan. Sometimes you can get another mom to foster it, otherwise it becomes a bottle baby. While bottle babies can be adorable, they are a lot of work, and any baby is better off if it can nurse it's mothers milk instead of formula.
While Dan had years of experience with cows, as his family milked Jerseys for years as he was growing up, this was my first experience with a calf. It's simply amazing to see how quickly they can get to their wobbly little feet, and I can't wait until the weather improves enough that we can begin to let our little guy out to run and play in the spring sunshine.