Friday, July 13, 2012

27 Hours, Part 1

You know how something always breaks in the week before you go on vacation? I thought I had staved off the usual appliance meltdown or plumbing malfunction by arranging to have all the windows in the house replaced in the run up to our trip. Silly me. That wouldn't do. In the span of 27 hours, we had a flash flood and our two water buffalo heifers gave birth.

The flood happened Wednesday afternoon. We got water in all sorts of places--buildings and fields--where it shouldn't have been but the biggest problem was losing some crucial permanent fencing around the access point to our largest pasture. To keep the buffalo from taking advantage of the seriously listing gate (pictured above) and getting into trouble, I moved them from the main pasture where they were having fun with the wet-weather creek to higher ground across the driveway. Here's Audrey just before the move--the other two are out of sight, down in the deep part of the creek to the right.

There wasn't much to be done until the water receded, so I stayed up late trying to get some work cleared off my desk in anticipation of a big post-flood cleanup. Thursday morning, I got up around 6:15 and looked outside to see our bull in the yard next to the house. Not a good thing. Clothes hastily applied, I raced out to try to close off as many escape routes as possible while sending out my best don't-mess-with-me vibe. I was wondering where the girls were but needed to get the bull under control first. Fortunately, he took my strong suggestion to make his way back via the fenced area we call the fish pond and I closed the gate behind him. Then I ran down to see whether the girls were still in the field where I'd left them the night before. Yes! And weirdly no sign of damage to the fence. Not sure how the bull escaped. No matter. Just had to get the herd reunited. Eschol was eager to get back to the girls, so a few gate openings, closings, and temporary fence lines later, he was back with the herd.  Effie ran over to greet him. But not Audrey. Hmmmmm....better go check on her. What on earth????? Look what was at her feet:

A little bull calf. All covered in slime, so he clearly had just been born. Maybe that's why Eschol came over to the house. He should have brought cigars. On second thought, maybe he got booted from the field during labor and grazing in the forbidden zone by the house was his version of going out for pizza and beer.

Audrey was showing all the right instincts, licking him from head to toe. I gave them a few moments alone while I ran to the house for the camera. I wasn't sure how protective she'd be of her calf but she let me come right up. The calf was every bit as cartoony as I had imagined he'd be: all ears and legs. And those golden-tipped hooves.....crazy!

The soft little ends of his hooves didn't stay golden for long, so I'm glad I got to see him fresh out of the oven.    He showed a nice, strong suckle reflex right away, trying to nurse on my fingers. The next couple of hours I spent helping him find his legs. He wanted to get up right away but it took a long time and much assistance for him to get the hang of it. He's too heavy for me to lift completely (I'm guessing around 90 pounds give or take), so I mostly tried to spot him, supporting his midsection as his tried to get all four legs in all the right places and get the hooves turned the right way down. Even tho' Audrey licked him a lot, there was still lots of slimy goodness on him which then transferred to me. As well as the manure he kept managing to fall in. 

I probably could have waited longer to let him figure it out before intervening but I both wanted to get him going on the nursing and he was really close to a steep slope, so I was nervous about him launching himself down the hill. Eventually, he made it up onto all fours on his own.

Unfortunately, every time the poor, wobbly little guy would get up and try to nurse, Audrey would push him away. Even worse, Eschol would run over and knock him down. And he didn't stop there. He'd start pushing the little guy with his horns, pretty viciously. One time he knocked him down a small embankment but I got him back up and he didn't seem too much worse for wear.  I spent quite a bit of time wrestling with Eschol that morning and distracting him long enough for him to forget about the calf. Effie was uncharacteristically chill about the whole thing, not intervening to help the calf or Audrey. She really seemed like she just didn't want to get involved. Not typical for our enforcer/head of security. Eventually I managed to get Eschol and Effie crossed back into the fish pond leaving Audrey and her calf to bond in peace. I was worried that so much time had passed without him nursing but then around 11am, Audrey passed her placenta. That explains why she wouldn't let him nurse. I had assumed it had passed right after he was born and I'd missed it. Really wasn't expecting a 5-hour time lag. I'll spare you the photographic evidence but my students will not be so lucky in the fall.

That done, I got back to work on helping the calf find his mother's teats and bribing her with treats so she'd stand still long enough for him to latch on. It worked. The first nursing didn't last long but he got his first colostrum so I felt much calmer. One worry down, a million to go. Thoroughly slimed, I left mom and calf for half an hour so I could recharge my and the camera's batteries. Good thing I didn't try changing clothes just yet.

When I returned, Audrey was waiting to cross over to join the rest of the herd. One problem: her calf was nowhere to be seen. I started looking up and down the embankment and found him trying to launch himself out of a ditch (miraculously, one of the few without standing water from the flood). I helped him up and checked for injuries but again he seemed fine. Reunited him with Audrey then got ready to move them across the driveway to be closer to but not in with the others. The path was all downhill but it is steep, slippery, and uneven. Not a problem for adult buffalo but way challenging for a little wobble monster. Mom led the way and I offered lifting and balancing support. It was pretty ugly. At one stage, Audrey and I sort of Malachi crunched him between us to keep him up on his feet. But eventually, we got him over to the main pasture. Time to rest. 

Well, they got to rest. I had to erect a temporary fence behind mom and calf to encourage her to head up to the big barn and not downhill to the wallow. It would be bad news if the calf stumbled into the wallow. I went up to the barn and put straw down for bedding and filled up the hay bin. Over the next few hours, Audrey coaxed her little guy up the big hill.  I was a little concerned that his left front knee was looking a little hyperextended. I checked to see if anything looked swollen or injured but there was no obvious sign of trauma. And he was putting weight on it. He just wouldn't walk very far without taking a rest. And that would be understandable given the day he'd had regardless of how his leg felt. To add to my worries, Audrey's right eye was swollen for no apparent reason. I made sure I had the vet's number in my phone and decided to wait a bit before calling. Partly, I didn't want to be the panicked first-time farmer and partly, I wanted to see if anything else was going to go wrong. My initial joy was slipping away with the waning adrenaline.

So, to keep myself occupied, I turned my attention to getting the washed out gravel back into the deep ruts in the driveway. Not fun work but at least the worst section was right by the buffalo so I could keep an eye on everyone while I worked. 

Our neighbor who lives at the far end of our driveway came down with her kids to see the calf and offered to go get some shovels and put the kids to work helping with the driveway. I took a moment to sit down by the corn crib having just realized how damn sore I was all over from having been on my feet in rubber boots doing some pretty heavy lifting  for nearly 11 hours already. I glanced over to see Eschol grazing while Effie laid down, got up, turned around, laid down again, then up again, and oh lord is that mucus I see? My very overtired brain knew immediately what was going on but didn't want to believe it. At 4:50pm, nearly 11 hours after Audrey had her calf, Effie was having hers.

To be continued.....


  1. Can't believe you even had the energy to write this. It's a beautiful and grand suspense story unfolding before our eyes.

    Eagerly anticipating Part 2 (which starts, we hope, with you letting the neighbor kids help shovel gravel).

  2. Amazing day! Thanks for sharing the story with us, Alison! Also, so glad there were no problems with the births (so far, anyway...) as our neighbors had quite a nightmare with their goats this spring. Also not planning on pushing around bufs anytime soon...

  3. Alison!!! Oh man, one of the joys of farming for me was always that suckling on the fingers of the calves. What an eventful couple of days you have had.Congats on the new extended family. Terrific pictures too.