Apr 29, 2010

Birth Order
(The Calfing Season)

We understood clearly that the calfing experience this year would be  different than it has been in the past.  The fact that it would be only Gustav and I the majority of the time was more than a little intimidating.  He and Papa and  I talked about it and tried to formulate a plan that would address all the aspects of calfing season in "full swing".
We wanted to take the best care of the mothers and babies that we could.
Papa's portable birthing stalls in the main barn gave us the flexibility we needed when more than one cow was ready to deliver at the same time.
But our main "Maternity Ward" was in the young animal barn.

                      We cleaned out a triple stall  to provide adequate room for the pregnant mother to move around or lie down. We scrubbed it all up, and put down a thick bed of fresh straw.  When it was ready we inspected all the cows and tried to determine who among them would be delivering her calf first... and we moved her in. 
Sometimes they fool you,
 especially heifers who have not calfed before, but this year we have done pretty well so far.   We moved Margot in just a few days before her delivery.  We thought she would be the first and we were right.  She had a beautiful calf and everything went fine. It was great to see that our efforts paid off.
So far so good (one down, 16 more to go).

Now that we felt we had the system in place and a good pattern to follow, we were vigilant in watching and assessing and shuffling every day.  We wanted to keep as many of the babies with their mothers for a full five days as possible, but we only had three birthing stalls,  so that meant we had to rotate pre-delivery cows between barns, out of the normal stalls, into one of the birthing stalls, then when the five days had elapsed after delivery, rotate the mother back into the milking line on the other side of the main barn and the five-day-old calf  into the learning box to be trained onto a bottle,  and the next pregnant cow into the birthing stall in time for HER delivery, etc.
Musical Bovines....
Not long into the process we began to see holes that needed to be filled...
See the innocent look on this cow's face? Don't believe it. It was time to move her from one  stall to another.  It was only across the aisle in the main barn so we thought it would be a snap...
Wrong again.

The minute Gustav unhooked her, she BOLTED,  flailing down the main aisle and up onto the feeding table with both of us in hot pursuit.  The blur you see in the right hand picture is her galloping down from the feeding table. 
Bad cow.
(Is that an understatement)?
Finally, after a lot of running and blocking and shouting and directing,  we got her herded into where she was supposed to be and hooked up again.
After that dance we learned:

A.  Don't move the cows even a short distance without a halter.
B.  Block all entrances to the feeding table on both ends before you start the move. 
(Papa actually had already installed hooks with ropes to block those entrances, but in our innocence we had neglected to use them.)
 With that slot emptied, we were ready to move post-delivery      Margot into the main barn again and into the milking line.  This time we did better...we haltered her up, led her peacefully out of the Maternity Ward, and back into the main barn.
She actually did just fine and seemed happy to be back.
Look at the top right of this picture and you will see one of the portable birthing stalls in the main barn - the wooden fence-like enclosure that creates a double stall, and the flat wooden birthing bridges that cover the dung ditch just below the back rail of the fence.  That way if the mother has her baby during the night it still has a flat surface and can't fall into the ditch.

We have line after line after line of coveralls and udder cloths.

We have milk to warm with the immersion heater and bottles to fill and nipple up for feeding the baby calves.

We have can milkers for collecting the "Råmjolk" - a Swedish delicacy - and for regulating the new mothers to make sure they don't get engorged. The row of  pipe milkers on the right are the standard 'work horses'  for the cows who are back in the milking line. Here they are after milking, all sudsed up and ready to be rinsed and put through the automatic wash cycle.

We have bottles and milkers and warmers to wash and stack every morning and night when we are done.
We are sometimes in the barn for hours at a stretch.

 Including the Dahlberg gang, in twenty five days we have welcomed in 19 new calves!
They are all well and healthy.  Their mothers are doing wonderfully. We have five mothers left to deliver, and...

 We are DOING it!!

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