It sure looks like a winter wonderland outside my windows today! We've had over a foot of snow fall since the beginning of the weekend, erasing most of the signs of spring around the farm. Last Monday was a different story, though! The pasture fields were showing the first blushes of spring green, and the sheep & cows were venturing out away from the barn to taste those first green blades.
Another sure sign of spring is farm babies, and we had been watching one of our Dexter cows, Finni, closely that day. She was standing about, all alone, tail straight out. Her udder had been steadily getting bigger for the past week as well, so we were pretty sure labor was imminent. It was a nice day, T-shirt weather, and I was keeping watch on her each time I stepped outside. I hung a load of laundry out on the line and noted she was off in the far corner of the pasture by herself, standing quietly. I did another load of clothes and returned outside less than 30 minutes later. First, I noticed Pixie, Finni's 2-year-old daughter, was up there, too. Then I noticed a small, wobbly little black shape. I looked again, just to be sure, but it certainly was the unmistakable outline of a newborn calf up there! I had not even seen Finni lay down to give birth, and yet mama and baby were both already on their feet. Nature is truly amazing!
When feeding time came in the evening, Finni and the newborn made their way down to the barn. We separated them from the herd and locked them in one of the outbuildings,. We call it the Sheep House, since that's where we put the ewes when lambing season arrives. While the other cows, including the bull, are generally protective toward any new arrivals, we like to give them a couple weeks inside this time of year. With the wild swings in weather, keeping baby inside gives our new arrivals the best start possible. There is also a sizable coyote population around as well, so it's also not a bad idea to keep the babies safe until they are a bit more steady on their feet.
This is Finni's third calf, and it's a girl. Each time, Finni has delivered quickly and without problems and has been a great mother. Many of the larger cattle breeds (especially Holstiens, the big milk cows) require help during delivery, which is not fun for man or beast. It's just one of the many qualities we love about our Dexters. The Dexter is an Irish breed, and was developed to be a family cow. Small, docile, producing enough milk for a family (but not too much), and muscular enough to raise calves for beef, and do great on a grass-based diet. Like many breeds of livestock, they are considered endangered, because all the qualities that make them great cows for the homestead do not make them great in our industrial food production systems. Without small farms and breeders, breeds like these cows would go extinct. So, every time we have a calf born (or a turkey poult or chick hatch), it's reason to celebrate!
Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day, the most Irish of all holidays, and Pixie had her first calf (also a heifer, or baby girl!) in the wee hours of the morning, before we got up to do our chores. Dan found them in the morning, near the barn, both mother and baby doing fine. Since Pixie & Finni get along very well, and there is plenty of room in the Sheep House, we put them both together in there. Once Pixie's calf gets a few days older and figures how to use those legs, I'm thinking they will be quite the adorable twosome, bouncing and playing together.
Pixie's calf is especially exciting, not only because she's healthy and Pixie is stepping up to be a great mother, but because she is our first calf born to Dexters we've bred and raised. Our first calves born here were two years ago, when Finni had Pixie and Lil had a boy now known as Bullwinkle. Bullwinkle is the father to both of this spring's calves, and Pixie's calf marks the first calf here to be a second-generation Pleasant Valley Farm Dexter. We're overjoyed at out little Irish blessings, and hope these girls will be part of a long line of Dexters here for many years to come!
Pixie's calf is front and center, with Finni and her calf looking on.