I’ve been on pins and needles since the beginning of this month waiting for this moment! And what a privilege it was to see everything come full circle: from Hazel being born on my farm to raising her to have her own calf. New life is always such a precious miracle!
Her due date was May 22cd but it was supposed to be very cold (temps dipping into the upper 20’s which isn’t unheard of for northern springs). So Hazel hung on to that beautiful baby for one more night. Thank goodness!
The morning of the 23rd dawned absolutely gorgeous. Could a morning ever have been more breath-taking? Sunshine streaming through iridescent green leaves and a sky so unbelievably blue. And when I walked into the barn Hazel was walking in circles with her tail stuck straight out. And I knew that my calf was on its way! Two hours later, at exactly 10:20 she popped out a beautiful little bull calf the color of mocha chocolate. Totally not the color I expected since I bred Hazel to a purebred Jersey bull (Lexicon 1JE00700 Jersey sire from Genex). He measures 25″ tall and pastern and canon bone measure 6″. A tiny little fella compared to my other Jersey calves who averaged 27″ at birth.
Ever since my first bull calf was born in 2011 I’ve had a bumper crop of heifers. So this time around I’m both pleased and excited to have a bull for two reasons: I hope to sell him as a sire due to the genetics I’ve chosen and also because I can finally name one Oliver. 🙂
Being a first freshener Hazel didn’t know what to think of this brand new critter. She’d moo for him, a deep-throated soft rumbling but every time her calf would go near she would get skittish and back off. She also would not let him nurse. And since it’s vital for calves to have colostrum within the first several hours from birth we bottle fed him last year’s colostrum (so glad I froze several gallons of it!)
Milking Hazel has been a rodeo these past several days. All this past year’s training completely gone/forgotten. I thought for sure since her dam was such an easy milker as a first freshener that trait would’ve been passed on to Hazel. But fellow farmers have assured me that this isn’t uncommon for a first calf heifer to behave like this, although they admitted it is rare for them to refuse their own calf. So I’ve had my work cut out for me! The first attempt at milking was terrible. I didn’t get more than 1 cup out of her. Second attempt last night was a bit better as I borrowed an anti kick device from my neighbor farmer and that helped some. After 2 hours fighting with her and milking between temper-tantrums (she was secured in a stanchion with a head-gate) I got 1 gallon of the thickest, yellowest and stickiest colostrum I have ever seen. But even so I was shocked at how hard it was to milk her. Maybe I just got lucky these past years with milking gentle, easy-going bovines because this is the first time I’ve ever dealt with a situation like this.
This morning however a farmer friend of mine unexpectedly stopped in. He wanted to see how things were going and to help me if I needed an extra hand. Wow. I was so surprised! How nice! Especially since he took time out of his own super busy schedule to help a little guy like me!
Instead of using the anti kick device he “tailed” her: lifter her tail straight up almost over her back with his hands firmly gripping one on top of the other down near the base. The idea here is that when the tail is lifted at such an angle it pinches a nerve or something in their back and somehow it makes the cow unable to kick. At first I was skeptical. Didn’t know how well or if it would even work. But it was well worth a try considering I had tried almost everything else I could think of (tying up one leg so she had to balance on three; cinching a rope round her barrel just in front of her udder and also tying her head to the opposite side. All three she still -unbelievably- kicked like the dickens!)
Again I was in for a surprise. Once that tail was in the air she didn’t move. Ok. Maybe a little bit. But she didn’t kick once. She side-stepped a few times so that my friend pressed his weight into her right thigh and hooked his right foot round her leg so that when she stepped again there was no place to move. It was amazing to me how something so simple (but it does require a good amount of strength to man-handle that tail straight up) as “tailing” could make such a significant difference. And in 20 minutes I milked over a gallon! Compare that to 2 hours from the previous nights! Wow!
So while we are no where’s near out of the woods yet things are much better than they were several days ago. It’s just a first time thing. She’s gotta get used to everything. And today she suddenly decided it wasn’t a bad thing for Oliver to nurse. Gosh! I love listening to a calf happily sucking, milk-foam dripping from their chins. 🙂 I couldn’t be happier. And with all the frustrations of the past couple of days, (and probably a few more to come) this more than makes up for them. This is the life.