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.