Ten and Twenty

Greetings from Minnesota.

I think we’ve made it through our coldest spell this winter, and things are starting to warm up – it got over 20 today! Things have also been a bit crazy at the farm. I’ve finally organized my thoughts from Thursday evening, which I “affectionately” call the night of ten and twenty.

Ten – the number of calves born on January 20, 2011.

Twenty – the number of degrees below zero by the end of Thursday night.

Get it, the night of ten and twenty? ๐Ÿ™‚ Okay, it’s lame. Moving on –

Ten calves in one day is truly a tidal wave for us. While we average one to two per day, we sometimes have days where four or five calves are born. But not ten.

The little lady above was calf #7. I think she was born about 8:00 pm, but I can’t say for sure because by that point my brain might have been fried from bottle-feeding so many babies and trying to keep track of which calf was from which cow.

Luckily we’d just gotten a whole bunch of new, blue calf coats, and we definitely needed them. It also worked out that we had both of our part-time workers at the farm this evening in addition to our regular help, which was such a blessing! Thank God for working that out for us.

On this chilly night we kept each calf in the calf warmer as long as possible, and then rubbed them dry if needed and bundled them in a coat.

We try to feed each new calf up to 4 quarts of colostrum, the rich milk a cow gives right after she gives birth. (Read more about our new calf care routine on this post.)

In total, we had eight single births and two sets of twins. I’m not sure exactly what percentage of dairy cows have twins, but I would imagine it’s similar to humans. Twins (and even triplets) can happen, but it’s not the norm.

A hard reality of farming is that animals live and animals die. While we had 8 healthy calves on this crazy day, one of the sets of twins was stillborn. The mama cow was having trouble calving in the morning, and my husband and several employees worked to help with the delivery.

J (my husband) has delivered a lot of calves, and even if the calf is breech or has a leg tucked back he can usually get things worked out. Twins complicate everything further, and they soon called our veterinarian. Once the twins were out, it became apparent that they’d actually been dead for several days. The best we could do was ensure the health of the cow, and happily, she seems to be doing well.

Hopefully this isn’t too depressing for a Monday, but I think life and death is an important thing to talk about. I wouldn’t feel right posting about the cute, fuzzy new calves without acknowledging the reality of the ones that didn’t make it. I don’t think I ever really get de-sensitized to the death of an animal, but I’ve learned to deal with.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have known about death because I saw it on the farm. Sometimes we lost a calf at birth, and sometimes it was just time for an older cow to go. It seems like dying is something a lot of people try to shield children from, and while I don’t think that’s wrong, I feel I’m better able to accept it because of how I was brought up. We could always talk about what happened instead of just pretending it didn’t happen.

Whew – heavy stuff. To wrap up, I’m happy to report the weather is getting back to an acceptable temperature (15 this morning!), and we’re also back to having a typical one to two calves per day.

Feel free to post your comments and questions!

About Lisa

Hi, I'm Lisa. Dairy farmer's wife and Minnesotan to the core, I write about rural farm life, running down country roads, and the food, faith, and family that bind everything together. Follow along on my journey.
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6 Responses to Ten and Twenty

  1. lifeisbeachykeen says:

    Glad the weatherbis warming up for you! Baby calves are soo cute. How sad that a set of the twins was still born. When I was still in highschool, maybe even middle school we had a mama cow that had a baby and we had to call our “cow guy” out to help the mama deliver. That was a scary all night ordeal, but everyone was healthy. I admit that I have a very irrational fear of death.

  2. Kierstan says:

    It has got to be hard losing calves, even though you guys know it happens and this is your job, I am sure it is never easy to get used to.

    Glad to hear it is warming up!! Not too bad here in Iowa either.

  3. Heidi Nicole says:

    I learned a lot of about the circle of life at a very young age because of growing up on a farm. We had a class hamster that died in 5th grade – I think I was the only girl that didn’t have a melt down – it was just the cycle of life to me.

    Of course, I was still a girl with emotions and I thought my world stopped turning when my favorite kitten died…but that is a different story.

    Have fun with all the new babies! Glad its warming up – at least for a bit – it should make things a bit easier!

  4. That is sad that the twins were stillborn, but I’m glad to hear the mama cow was okay! How many cows do you have on the farm? It sounds like its a pretty big operation if you are having a calf born at least every day…

    • Lisa says:

      I think “pretty big” is definitely relative on today’s dairy farms ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve been to farms with anywhere from 20 milking cows to over 5,000 milking cows, and they are all more simillar than you’d think. It just takes a lot more people to get the jobs done on bigger farms, but workers can also be more specialized and give around the clock care that isn’t always possible on smaller farms. Pros and cons to all sizes of farms I think. To get back to your question, we milk several hundred cows on our dairy, and have the baby calves and heifers as well. Let me know if there’s anything else you have questions about!

  5. Lauren says:

    I think losing an animal – whether it’s for your job or as a pet, has to be tough. I admire you (and your husband!) for working so hard for the new babies!

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