I'd been told that water buffalo are pretty sneaky about giving birth. Even lots of experienced farmers get surprised by the appearance of a calf. One person told me that it's rare to see the actual event and if you just happen to be nearby when the telltale bit of mucus starts emerging from the backside of the cow, don't blink or you'll miss the event. That's the only sign you're getting. I saw it and took the risk of running back to the house for my camera. When I returned a couple of minutes later, this is what I saw:
Click on the photo above to enlarge it and you'll see a golden-tipped hoof starting to emerge. Then there were two hooves:
This is correct presentation for a calf--hooves first and pointing down. Knowing this, it's clear why those little hoof tips are so soft. The hooves harden really fast after birth but I'm sure all buff mothers are grateful that the hooves are soft when they're making their way through the birth canal. At this stage, Effie laid down so I took the opportunity to cross to the other side to get between her and the feeder creek which is just past the electric fence (I had already turned off the power so no one would get zapped during labor). Effie was so close to the fence I was worried the calf might slip under and end up in the very swollen creek. Here's what Eschol was doing: more pizza for the expectant father.
When Effie stood up again, she started licking something on the ground. Yup, just that fast, Effie's little girl calf was out. The whole process took about 10 minutes, maybe 15 at the most.
Welcome to the world, Mabel.
Eschol came over to give her a sniff and then I gave him my best "you mess with this calf and you will be on my dinner table by next week" look. Don't know if that's what did the trick or he just wanted more pizza but either way he wandered off. The rain (oh, yes--it's still raining even as I write this on Saturday morning) was picking up and it was getting to hard to manage the camera and keep track of two newborns in fairly precarious places. So, I put the camera down and picked up the cell phone. First call to Jim: find your own way home from the airport tonight. Second call to the neighbor: tell the kids to be real quiet when they come up to see the second calf of the day. Third call to my friend, farmsitter, and fellow vet tech: you know how you say I never ask for help? Well, today I'm asking. Not sure what I'm going to need but I definitely needed someone with a functioning brain. An extra pair of eyes and hands and oh maybe a little dinner would be great, too. Big gold star for Beth who came right over and provided all that and more.
Effie gave Mabel a few licks but didn't do the thorough job that Audrey did with Chuck. Mabel sounded a little juicy in the lungs but after a few minutes her breathing seemed to clear up. And then we were off to the races. Mabel is a little spitfire. She was up on her feet in minutes with no assistance from mother or me. She found her legs fast--not just up but walking with remarkable steadiness despite being in a really boggy, soggy area. She hardly stumbled at all. Effie didn't seem too happy to have her up and trying to nurse (Mabel knew right where to go and what to do) so she kept knocking her down. I assumed she didn't want the calf trying to nurse until the placenta passed but maybe it's also an instinct to keep the newborn down and out of sight of predators. Either way, she was very insistent. Really put her horns into it if you know what I mean. At one point she managed to catch Mabel's head in the curve of her horn but Mabel freed herself. Good girl. Then Eschol came over to join in. Tough love, buffalo style.
Poor Mabel. So full of life and enthusiasm but only the humans wanted to see her up and about. Her herd was not amused by her precocious behavior. Because Eschol was trying to roll her down the hill towards the creek, I quickly set up a way to get him out of there and into the field across the driveway, the one where Chuck had been born half a day earlier.
Somewhere in there Beth arrived with food and a level head. The neighbors showed up to see the calves and finish filling in the rutted driveway and it looked like there might be a little calm. The only problem was that Effie kept wandering off toward the flooded end of the fish pond and leaving her calf alone. Mabel was clearly interested in exploring so we kept a close eye on her to make sure she didn't get into trouble. Her ambulatory skills were already so much stronger than Chuck's, it was a delight to watch. Beth captured a bit of her on her smart phone. Sadly, it was about the only time that Mabel tumbled so take my word for it that she really was quite steady on her feet for the most part.
While the neighbors kept an eye on Mabel, Beth and I worked on things like getting water set up by the big barn and solidifying the temporary fence that would keep the calves out of the wallow and keep the bull from getting to the barn where our cow/calf pairs would be hanging out. As the evening wore on, it became clear that Effie was completely uninterested in her calf. Not good. As it was getting close to dark and I had visions of coyotes running through my head, I decided to start leading Mabel towards the barn where Audrey and Chuck were in hopes that Effie would follow. Mabel was a champ. With only a few attempts to detour, she got up the big hill, mostly just following me. Here's a picture that Beth snapped of us on our way:
We got all the way up to the barn before Effie noticed. She eventually made her way up but didn't seem that engaged. Then again, her placenta still hadn't passed. Meanwhile, Eschol was fussing like crazy for being separated from the herd. Effie and he kept talking across the driveway. She seemed more concerned about him than her calf. Not sure what that's all about but none of the buffs have ever liked it when any of the herd is separated. But this was way more vocalization than we'd ever heard. I wanted to get Eschol back across the driveway where he could be just on the wallow side of the electric fence. That way, he and Effie could touch noses across the fence but I wouldn't have to worry about him tearing apart the barn or the calves. But it was getting dark and he refused to move. Crap. Well, not much to be done now.
With things winding down for the night and Jim on his way, I sent Beth home with my eternal gratitude. I went back up to the barn to check on everyone and double down on the straw and hay. Effie still was being standoffish. Fortunately, Audrey is turning out to be not only a great mom, she's also a great surrogate mom (truly a buffalo after my own heart). She let Mabel nurse while we waited for the placenta to pass. Jim got in around 10pm and came up to the barn to meet the two new members of the herd. Much happniess all around. So wonderful to be hanging out with the calves and moms. Not having Eschol around means we can be right in with the girls and Chuck without having to constantly watch our backs. Eschol quieted down after dark (except when we walked by) and that seemed to calm Effie down. She finally passed her placenta or at least part of it. It's not great if she retains any of the placenta so we hoped she'd pass the rest without incident. I scooped up the placenta as I'd done with Audrey's. Don't worry. Not going to do anything freaky with it. I just think it's coyote bait so I wanted to get it as far away from the calves as possible. The next morning we found the rest of the placenta in the barn, so I'm pretty confident that it's all out now.
Once we had soaked up enough happy, we left the buffs to settle in. I think we got back to the house around 11:30 or 12 but it's all a bit blurry now. We still had a bit of work to do to move furniture, etc. away from all the windows in the house because our contractors would be arriving first thing in the morning. After that, the much-needed shower. Then bed. And blessed slumber.
Up before dawn to check on the buffs and the start of another crazy day. The short version: Effie is rejecting her calf, Eschol made a jail break overnight, and once we corralled him, he showed Effie how to get past the temporary fence so she could join him in the fish pond. So, yet another go at designing that fence to be more buffalo-proof, fixing the fence that Eschol busted through earlier in the day, then we started the really heavy work of clearing the debris off of the destroyed barbed-wire fencing leading up to the Booth (the large knoll where we originally intended to have the buffalo stay and which under normal circumstances would be a very secure area for bull or calves). Jim manned the chainsaw, cutting up several large tree trunks and branches while I helped haul the debris off to a place where it wouldn't take out the fence again if we have a repeat of the flooding. We kept trying to lure Effie back to her calf but to no avail. Audrey continues to be a champ, doing double nursing duty.
OK, back to it. Need to go finish pulling the soggy stuff out of the workshop. Keep your fingers crossed that the sun comes out today and helps us to dry out a little. And that Effie's maternal instinct kicks in.