11.03 am I am sitting in the barn – on my milking stool. It is cold, blowing cold and getting colder. Del’s waters have broken. I think the calf will be born too early and probably dead from the high temps. Or the high temps because he died. Irrelevant now. Her waters have broken.

Del is on her feet still, alternating grinding her teeth and mooing softly at the puddle of amniotic fluid.

I can hear the chatter of the piglets on the other side of the barn trying to convince their mother they need more milk. The clatter of frozen rain on the barn roof.

Inside I set a container of colostrum in a bath of warm water to thaw. There is a very small chance that she will give birth to a live calf. I have my gloves and towels just in case but chances are the high temps I did not catch in time will have killed the calf. He was so close too.

It can be up to four hours after the water breaks that cow will give birth. Usually Del is pretty fast. But so I wait. On my milking stool in the milking room I refuse to prepare for the season in case it jinxes the cow. Too late for that now I think. Though I do have another cow in the field. Locked out and close to calving too.

11.37 Del my beautiful cow stood for a while and then ate everything in her food bowl for the first time in days. I took a bucket and ran through the rain down to the hay field and picked her some fresh alfalfa and dock and she ate those too. Now she is laid back down. No contractions. All very calm. She is no longer wide wild eyed. The wind blows. My hands are getting really cold but it is spring and all my winter gloves are worn out or holey or lost. The piglets swarm their mother again. The roosters crow as the guineas chatter. No more sounds from Del. Relaxed through the wall behind me. Waiting for Phase Two of her labour to begin.

I can hear her breathing – gentle now.

I am trying not to worry that her water has broken and now nothing. I know it can take up to four hours. And two days ago this baby was nowhere near ready to be born. The vet is on call.

11.58 no change. Sleeping.

12.26 after noon. I spoke to the vet – we will give her another hour then I will get her to come out and have a look.

1.38 the vet is on her way. I need to find out what is happening. Del did get up and eat again though but either tail high and her back arching every now and then. She is in considerable pain. I have never seen a cow arch her back. Crunch up like that. Maybe the calf is inching upwards, he has a long way to go and was not prepared to be ejected – is he even facing the right direction? Does her body turn him headfirst on the way up?

1.48 I have brushed Del again to try and help her. I am back on my milking stool now – in the untidy milking room – cats sleeping in the deep straw – out of this hideous wind. Waiting for the vet – waiting for the calf. Zoning right down.

Poor Tia. It is blowing icy rain but she won’t come up. Staying under the trees. She can smell trouble – what a shit day.

Del keeps dropping strands of pre-birth / it is not called prebirth but that is what it is – the messy slimy stuff no one wants to talk about. But this is dark now and not normal. Something bad is coming. She gets up again and noses at the moisture – mooing softly. Smelling her calf.

Then she goes and eats again – she is suddenly starving. Eating everything.

I am past eating or drinking or even thinking. For a while I was quietly cleaning out the middle one but even that has stopped. Now I am all cow.

I am in a strange suspended purgatory world. Gone deep. Waiting for it to be over. Losing hope for a live calf to fight for. Time ebbs away. All other responsibilities recede. Just the wind pouring through the cracks in this ancient barn and the cow and me. She and I.

2.02 here is the vet driving up the lane.

We coaxed my exhausted stumbling cow into the stanchion. Long gloves – lots of lubricant and the vet put her arm as far as her shoulder into the cow and found the calf to be dead. After considerable labour on both their parts ( the vet and the cow) she was able to bring his hooves and head into alignment. Then we connected his feet to chains and heaved the poor dead bastard out. These two sentences write very easily but the act itself was visceral and full of awful and took a long time. The calf had been dead days. In fact his dying probably caused her fever – bringing her down and slowing her ability to expel this big calf.

Once we started pulling him out my anxiety dropped away. He was dead already so there was no desperate rush against time. All our focus was on saving Del. The physical work of it. She pushed and we pulled and heaved the big calf out.

Once it was over the vet went back in to check for damage and deposit medication. Already Del was standing straight again. Once I had freed her from the stanchion she strode to her water with electrolytes and drank half then resumed eating. She had soaked alfalfa cubes and beet shreds and grain.

She was also full of milk so later in the afternoon I milked her. Not too much / she does not need milk fever as well. But she milked well eating again. And she ate and ate as much as she could.

At night chores last night she was still dealing with pain and afterbirth and all that messy stuff but got stuck right into the half bale of hay I threw to her. She shows no sign of searching for or missing the calf. She is just worn out and hungry.

The wind and rain continued to howl all night. Molly had to have her door closed again. I left Del by herself and bedded Tia down in the milking room, today I will finish the cleaning second bay so I can use them both.

Tia is very full of milk also and now I am afraid her calf might be as big. But I will suspend that fear for a few more hours. I am tired. Because the problem was the calf dying in utero – his size had nothing to do with that event. She has pushed out big calves before. Tia is a big girl too.

So now, as long as Del recovers ok, milking is underway. It will take a week or so to clear plus she is full of antibiotics and an anti- inflammatory I need to check the withdrawal dates on all these medications.

Cold – 33f here this morning.



103 Comments on “OVER NOW

    • Yes. It was bad luck about the calf but most importantly Del appears to be on the mend- she came into the milking room in a hurry this morning- much more like her old self

  1. It sounds like the worst is over now. Truly hope that’s true. So glad she’s got her appetite back. Please be sure to take care of yourself as well, Celi? Loving arms surround you. xo

    • What a moving piece of writing. Clever Del to know she needed to eat and drink. Brilliant that your vet was able
      to be there. Now, you time. Please look after YOURSELF.

      • Lovely idea to look after myself though now as well as the usual I am milking twice a day. With a calf I can get away with milking only once but now it will be twice a day for the foreseeable future!

  2. Ah, Celi, what a time you’ve both had. She suffered in body and you suffered in mind. But I loved hearing how she knew what she needed, eating and drinking and being very focused about that, especially after she’d been freed of her burden. Now, please will you be careful with yourself after that tormented, freezing vigil? Scalding hot shower, a big glass of whatever does you good, a hot meal inside you…

  3. I was breathlessly riveted, right to the last word. Will Del’s milk be discarded because of the medication?

  4. Oh dear what an awful day, but let’s hope all will be well now. As Kate said look after yourself.

  5. What a sad day. But at least Del is starting to come right by what you say. Now go and treat yourself with whatever you need to recover from this day.

  6. What a terrible time for you all. Lots of thoughts and hugs to you and Aunty Del- what troopers you both are.

  7. Celi, no one can really know your angst, your courage, your torture – unless they’ve experienced what you have. However, we have the desire to assist you by sending thoughts of love and comfort. The love you have for your animals is enormous, and their pain is your pain. This is the paradox of love. Sending you love, blessings, and comfort.

  8. Incredible. Living on a farm with animals has so many ups and downs. I hope, going forward, that both cows do well. Your experience with this makes such a difference to them. I truly appreciate your knowledge and caring.

  9. Glad that calf is out, I have to say, I hate when they need to be pulled.. but I am so glad it went well from the sounds of it.. so glad she is eating and drinking.. may the healing begin..

  10. Oh C, I read and then re-read about your day awash with emotions. I am heartbroken over the loss of her calf but really happy you have saved Del. So sorry you had to deal with this on your own. Hugs from afar. Laura

  11. So sorry about your loss. It is the unfortunate part of farm life. Your writing was so strong and emotional that I felt like I was there with you. feeling the cold, the pain and the stress. Take care now and know you did well by Del.

  12. Thank you for taking the time to post. Del will recover quickly now – saving her was the priority and save her you did. 🙂

  13. Like Misky, I read to the end without breathing, & then wept tears for the three of you, living & dead, for your ordeal & suffering. I remembered Dr. James Herriot of All the Creatures Great & Small & his many riveting encounters with cows calving in the middle of the night & his great compassion, expertise & strength. I’m glad Aunty Del has you, Celi, who cares for her so much, & your vet who brought that poor dead calf out at last. How much strength & expertise that must have taken. And now I can only keep on hoping for Del to be all right. You to get warm & rest, & for spring to come back to The Farmy. Love to all of you there.

  14. First, I’m so glad she is eating with gusto again and second, what a terribly painful experience. Glad it’s over, for her and you.

  15. I am so sorry for your loss. I am glad Del is rid of what was weighing her down and is ready to recover, but there is no loss quite like lost hope and potential.

  16. Like so many of us – I read this quickly holding my breath … and then slowly… feeling so sorry for you both. You and your dear Aunty Del made a good team. Love how you care for her and how you stood by – being patient and watchful. Sending wishes for a restful day now for you both.

  17. Like @jmcheney I was also reminded of James Herriot’s books…I read them all with baited breath just as I read this. Horrible, and sad, but so beautifully expressed. What a struggle it always is. An exhausting struggle. Take care of yourself.

  18. Yes! My first responsibility is to my cow who has worked tirelessly with me for years. I am so grateful we were able to save her – so far so good anyway

  19. I have never met Del. I have never met you. The first thing I thought of when my eyes opened this morning was “ how are Del and Celi “……I have been following for so many years that you are family. My day starts with a visit to the “farmy”. I hold you in love and light. I dedicate Yoga practices to you. I am inspired by you. My husband will often look over my shoulder and remark….”visiting the farmy?” All that just to say what everyone has already said…..wow, what an ordeal please take care and feel all of us ,rooting for you and Del. ( and Tia).

    C, I loved that it was a female vet…..seemed appropriate that in sistership, you worked

    • There is a very definite sense of oneness when two women work together. I emphasize the together because females don’t always work well together. This vet has the kind of personality that enables confidence and strength in others. So together we were as strong as three women.

  20. You have been through the pain and hope of a lifetime in a single day. We felt we were there with you on that milking stool aching hands and heart. Such intense honest beautiful writing. As ghastly as it is to witness this poor calf’s birth, I cannot tell you how relieved I am that Aunty Del has survived. As terrible as the loss of the calf is, losing your sweet Aunty Del would have been much the worse disaster.
    Still it’s a melancholy task to have to milk her twice a day for a long time. Cows are so mysterious!
    Even though I am an avid fan of Dr Pol and have watched many calves being chained and cranked out, this is the quintessential armchair view not at all like the real, visceral thing, the wild assault on all the senses I can only imagine it to be. You’re quite a woman, Cecilia! Quite a woman and it’s a privilege to be a part of this fellowship.

  21. I’m so sorry about the calf, and so sorry about what Auntie Del to go through. I’m extremely relieved she’s OK. Happy for her and for you. Like everyone else I read that as fast as possible trying to take and what you’ve been through. This seems like a very intense experience, and I’m glad for you and Auntie Del that it is over. I hope you’re able to get some rest now. I’m glad the sun is back. I love your Vet, so glad you have her. Wishing you a restful and calming day to recover.

      • Ah yes, I see the difference. Hope all is improving. I was starting to worry a bit since you haven’t posted today. (no pressure!)

  22. Heart breaking, such sad news. You must be physically and mentally exhausted. Don’t forget to love yourself too my lovely miss c xx

  23. What Karla said and everyone else for that matter… And I too am glad the vet was a woman…just seemed there might have been more compassion in the whole ordeal somehow. So sorry C. but as you said, the most important thing was Del and she was saved and her misery was ended much sooner with your guidance and love for her.

  24. Poor Del! But I’m relieved to hear that she was strong throughout the ordeal and is starting to feel better already. Good cow.

  25. What a miserable day for you both but what a relief that Del is recovering. I hope that Tia’s calving goes easily. It is good to see that you have a sunny day now and perhaps Spring will finally come along with no more of these cold spells.

  26. I’m glad Del is okay and so sorry for the emotional and financial cost of losing a calf. He would have gone to pasture for the benefit of off setting costs and that’s a shame. I hope the Spring warming brings a healthy birthing and calf for Tia. Wishing you peace of mind and sunny skies.

  27. Thanks for the update. We are all concerned. Keep hydrated. Your community loves you! and Mme Del! … lippy 😉

  28. You and Aunty Del are tough broads. I’m sorry that you two had to go through that but I’m so relieved Aunty is okay. xo

  29. An epic piece of writing from the Farmy frontline. Not the news I was hoping for but the best of what I expected. Sorry about the calf but pleased that Aunty Del held up. You certainly earn your farmer stripes, as they say, in the field… and milking room… of mindful, care-full ethical farming.

  30. I read most of this early in the day. Your writing reaches deep within and pulls us along the experience. My heart goes out to you. Hopefully the rest will go better. That’s enough for one to deal with.

  31. Wow, Ceci ! I don’t even know if you’ll get down to my comment – so MANY responses! My heart was aching for you ladies and oh, how I admire your strength! JMCheney of the Farmy Friends is so right about Jim Herriot’s books, as they give great insight as to what you go through every day. His reminisces of his veterinary days are wonderfully written and run the gamut of emotions – just as you do. The Farmy is an exciting place – never a dull moment!

  32. Amen! Now good-bye to yesterday and slow recovery . . . one of your pieces of writing which has landed in the ‘forever’ file . . . feel privileged to have read . . .

  33. How very sad when something that should be natural and magical turns difficult and almost violent. The very thought of chains and pulling is sad. You are fortunate to have a good vet, I, too have a wonderful woman for all the outside animals. She is worth her weight in gold, compassionate yet realistic and ever hopeful.

  34. I too found it a marvelous read; on the edge of my stool errr seat. You have a good way with prose.

  35. Mother Nature spoke. And you and vet responded. Wow. Just wow. I am so relieved that Del is showing hopeful signs of recovery. Thank you for such an amazing account of what happened.

  36. So sorry to hear about the calf but thank goodness Aunty Del is doing well. The cycle of life is often cruel, but what can we do? Push on … I hope all continues to be well 💖
    {P.S. I bloomin’ love your style of writing. I was right there with you, tearing up, holding my breath and with quickened pulse! xx}

  37. I’m thankful Aunty Del is feeling better. Pity about the calf, maybe that is why she was so wild that windy day. I know about focusing on the animal when things aren’t going well, it does take some of the overwhelm away. Big hugs to both you and Del and more big hugs to your vet, good vets are a blessing. I read not long ago that more women are going into large animal practice and that’s a good thing. I’ve found the female M.D.s are more approachable and understanding. Stay dry this coming week.

  38. So sorry for your loss but so glad Del is on the mend. Horrid thing to watch- at least you have some other healthy babies around to lift your spirits. Hugs to you and Del

  39. I am so sorry. I’ve been offline a lot, but had a few seconds yesterday long enough to read about Del’s (and your) woes. Thank god she has you there to help her. If you hadn’t been, she probably wouldn’t have survived. So horribly sorry for the loss of her calf, but very glad you still have Del and hope she continues to improve and thrive. You are a wonderful human mama and caretaker for all of your animals…never doubt that…you always, always do your best. They all have the best lives because of you.

  40. Glad it’s over & the old girl is back on her feet. Just think, you’ll need all that extra milk for the extra pigs . . . & chicks . . . & cheese

  41. I’m so late getting to this, but C, I love the rawness of your writing. I felt the anxiety and also the relief when it was over. These difficulties are part of farm life, and of human life. You are one of the finest stewards of the animals and of the land. A good caretaker can read the signs and watches her charges. It is a special kind of knowing and communication – a deep connection and understanding you have with your animals and birds.

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