Mother's Day Surprise

May 17, 2023

By Scott Haase

Raising animals on pasture and woodland, following the patterns nature’s designed for us, or at least to the best of our ability, often leads one to new experiences. Surprising ones more often than not it seems. Wandering through the woods by only the light of a headlamp, trying to follow sounds, losing all sense of direction late into the night after Mother’s Day I was in the midst of one of these experiences.

The day began with a simple family gathering for Mother’s Day, and then afterwards, working to get through livestock chores. Chores were later than normal since one of my brothers and I decided to cook up a delicious assortment of brunch foods for our mom and pleasant conversations continued into the afternoon. Lots of home-grown meats, eggs from the local food co-op, homemade maple syrup and more were enjoyed by all! 

I was looking forward to a relaxing evening after all of this but the first minor setback was that the electric fence had shorted out due to rising floodwaters of the Blue Earth River. The group of new pigs that was nearly perfectly trained to respect the fence quickly learned of its ineffectiveness and were now completely ignoring it! Shame on me too for not keeping them as content inside their boundary as I could of. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to get the fence voltage back up to par (around 8,000 volts) and lead the pigs back (sort of) where I wanted them. They’re young, it’ll take a day for them to re-learn before we again have complete control of them.

The rest of daily chores went relatively smoothly at the BDF homestead and the next task was visiting the cattle at one of our offsite locations. I’d been checking in on them using the Nofence app and could see our brown heifer was just a little less active beginning in the afternoon. Could it finally be time for the calf?

When I arrived at the site I walked through the grove, from the East, to the open field growing with lush clover to the West. A different kind of cow sound projected through the air to my eardrums and I noticed a buzzard flying over the area as I approached the edge of the grove. Through the brush, I saw the brown cow with its head down and it looked like it was eating or picking up something red. Hmmm…

After watching for another minute or two, I wondered if there could be a new calf lying down in the clover. Alive hopefully. But as I slowly approached, little by little, it was clear there was no calf. Instead, something was visible hanging out the cow’s rear end.

Our first heifer had given birth to its first calf almost a month ago. Since planting season at Haase Family Farms was getting underway this isn’t something I wrote about in any detail. The birth apparently went off exactly how it should and I didn’t have the opportunity to observe any of the details. When I arrived, the calf was there already and nursing.

This time, here were all the gory details! Getting even closer I could see hooves sticking out the rear! They were yellow, which looked weird to me. Should I have known better what to expect? Maybe. But I’m usually more of a “figure it out as you go” kind of guy. When the stakes are exceedingly high or when my level of knowledge seems like it would have an out of proportionally large effect on an outcome I’ll definitely do my research and learn from experts but a cow giving birth didn’t strike me as that type of scenario. However, I did have a friend I could call. And in retrospect, I should’ve been better prepared.

Yeah, that looks nasty!

A couple hours later, after several texts and brief phone conversations with my friend Merlin still no calf. Fortunately for me, and the cow too, Merlin lives nearby and at least claimed he didn’t have too much going on that evening. When he arrived at the scene he handed me a bottle of iodine solution and a tub of vaseline. “Here,” he said, “these are your friend!”

Then, it was decided that since the cow/heifer (I don’t know precisely when it becomes a cow, is it the moment of birth?) didn’t seem stressed I should go home for an hour and then check back. I was getting a little chilled as the sun sank lower and the cool breeze blew so that sounded like a great idea! And the heifer really did not seem stressed at all. I’d been watching somewhat dumbfounded as she casually walked around, sometime even grazing, as things protruded out her female cow-parts!

Warmer jacket, headlamps, rope, gloves, and a few other items all in hand and I returned. Jason, the hardworking and dedicated Blue Dirt Farm employee, agreed to meet me and darkness had set in. I occasionally do stupid things (well OK, maybe more often than that!) but getting up close and personal with a 1000 pound animal alone in the dark didn’t strike me as a wise choice. With the Nofence app finding the animal, even in the dark, was simple. I could simply have the system report her current location and within a minute or two it’s on a map. This feature would prove incredibly valuable this evening!

The cow was laying down when I reached her and following Merlin’s instructions I looped rope around the hooves. Giving the rope a pull they seemed to come out, just a little farther, but quickly the cow got up. I tried to pull more as she began walking away but soon I’d lost hold of the rope and she was on the move.

Jason and I followed the sounds through the darkness and then we were startled by Merlins voice! I’d texted him that we were back and still no calf. I’m lucky to have a friend like him!

To make a long story a bit shorter, we followed that cow around for close to an hour with barely any opportunity to pull on the calf. Finding a tow strap in my car Merlin thought we may be able to catch and restrain her. This almost materialized when I again found her laying down. But horns got in the way and being something totally new to me I didn’t have a lot of confidence. Fumbling with the tow strap I let her get away again!

Similar action ensued for another hour or so. Merlin repeatedly mentioned that if he had the proper type of lasso rope he’d be able to catch her. Finally Jason, who’d been lost in the dark woods for a while, caught up with us and informed us that a cousin, who had items in his garage currently, is a cowboy and there’s a saddle and ropes there!

We got the ropes, two of them. They were indeed the right kind. And we got water, one thing I’d neglected to bring with. After hours of stumbling after the cow in the dark, ducking under prickly ash, and stepping over branches, we were all very thirsty!

One important thing I should mention. By this point what we all feared, we knew was probably the case. The chances of the calf being alive were exceedingly small and rapidly diminishing. All I was hoping for anymore was that we’d be able to save the cow’s life by getting her calf out. Merlin reassured us that if we could catch her and get her restrained he could get the calf out. If this failed I surely didn’t have any other good plans. Maybe call the nearest vet? At 1:00 in the morning?

The evening definitely was NOT going well. All attempts to catch the cow seemed entirely futile. Especially in the dark, with the underbrush, and trying to get a rope over those horns! The best opportunity I’d had was the botched attempt before she’d been chased much and having another opportunity like that seemed so unlikely now!

Trying once again, we attempted several times to lasso the heifer. More wandering through the woods, stumbling in the dark. “We have the right kind of rope now but is this really going to work?” I wondered. Then, I must have channeled my inner cowboy. In case you didn’t already know, I did not grow up around cattle and often don’t know what I’m doing. I let the lasso rope sail by the light of the headlamp and it caught! Just one horn I believe, maybe. It happened quick! I let some rope out as the 1000 lb animal tugged and willed myself in the direction of a tree trunk to gain some friction and leverage. “Please don’t slip off!” I said to myself as I did my best to keep the rope tight and draw the animal in.

The other guys quickly sprang into action and Merlin secured his rope on the heifer’s head too. Jason and I continued to use the tree to draw in and restrain the animal. In just a few seconds she stopped struggling and pulling so much and somewhat calmed down, undoubtedly tired because of the ordeal, all of it.

Merlin got into place at the rear and began pulling on the hooves. The rope I’d attached had fallen off some time ago and since pulling directly didn’t yield any quick results he removed his belt and used it to get a better grip. I guess we forgot more rope back at the vehicles. Oh, and the vaseline too!

Then, “Guys!” Merlin exclaimed, “It’s alive!”

The calf was still alive! He’d heard a gurgle, or something that because of his experience told him it wasn’t too late for the calf! Another pull. With the sounds of exertion Merlin was making back there it almost sounded like HE was giving birth! “Scott, I need your belt too”

Putting belts around each hoof individually would help us pull harder. By that time, the ropes around the heifer were secure enough that Jason could handle that end and I helped pull. Merlin and I pulled as hard as we could and the head emerged! Then, it got stuck again at the hips. We pulled again, after working hands around the animal’s body to help it slide and it was finally out!

The next day!
Looking a little more sure-footed at two days old.
Merlin & Megan after moving their cattle onto pasture with mine 2022
Yours truly. See! Told you to put that order in first!

Scott Haase

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