Heavies Springing into Pairs

First thing in the morning, Newt drives through the “heavies” or cows that are still pregnant and “springing”. Certain female areas get larger and looser (for the XX chromosome humans who thought squeezing a watermelon through the size of an orange seems impossible, think giving birth to a 90 lb calf. Something needs to loosen up and give a little- thus springing.) If their bags are filling up with milk and the cows are “springing” a new baby calf should arrive any time.

Newt checks to make sure everyone is looking fine. A cow should have a calf in a couple hours of the initial signs. A stiff tail, milling around in the same spot, staying off by themselves, water bag hanging out or breaking. Then a foot should come out, then two feet. If the calf is positioned correctly the two hooves should point down. If the calf is backwards, the back feet are coming out and the hooves point towards the sky. If the cervix isn’t dilated, the calf can’t come through and the vet will need to do a c-section. If the feet are HUGE, you might have to help the pull the calf because he is too big. If the sack, or lining around the calf in the uterus, is stuck to his head, the calf will suffocate. If you are lucky, you catch these in time, sometimes you don’t.

Once the cow has calved, she is suppose to claim her own calf. Cows rely on smell to identify their calf (and later the sound of his bawl, but newborns have a noseful of phlegm and can’t squeak out a baaaaa yet). So if two cows calve next to each other, they can claim the same calf. No colostrum, or vital first milk, for the other calf and he will die.

Newt hates cows that don’t claim their calves. He has to feed the calf, lock them both up in a small pen, lock the cow’s head in a chute, and let the calf suck several times a day while dodging the kicking cow. Usually in 2-3 days, the calf’s poo smells like his mom’s milk and she takes him back.

To reduce confusion, the mother cow and her baby calf are “paired off” into a different pasture. It also reduces the chance that an older calf will infect a younger calf with germs (think daycare germs- eeck). The cow’s nutritional needs are at their peak, as she produces milk and tries to heal up. So the pairs will get hay and cake with added protein and energy. If it ever rains again, the green grass is also a good source of the extra nutrients she needs.

Newt rides a horse to pair off. The cows think the cowdogs are coyotes trying to eat their calves. A racket ensues- cows bellowing, head down chasing the dogs through the fence, other cows hear the panic call and start to panic. Soon the herd is just running around senseless.

With a horse, the cows usually don’t have a problem. (Some cows don’t like anything messing with their new baby, so they will run and hit your horse. We had a mare that would spin around and kick the charging cow in the head. If you didn’t fall off in the process, the cow usually stopped and you continued pairing.)

Newt gets frustrated with the pairs don’t stay together. Either the calf runs off aimlessly, or his mom will take off into the new pasture and leave her baby behind. Lope, turn the cow, lope, turn the calf back, look west, look east, try to decide whether to chase the cow or the calf since they are now running in opposite directions.

Finally, success when the calf happily trots by his momma’s side.

Categories: Ranching in the Sandhills | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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