I briefly mentioned that I had a cow calving yesterday. This was Jennifer. In the Social Life of Cows I mention Jennifer and her position in the herd so do follow the link to get an idea of her. I’ve put several ‘ah-sweet’ images of cows and calves on the blog previously, so I thought you might be interested in some working images, so to speak.

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early stages

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Jennifer is my most senior cow; she is imbued with calmness, wisdom and intelligence. This hasn’t always been the case and whilst working her way up the herd hierarchy she was aloof, independent and didn’t tolerate humans. Now respected, secure in her place and in her immediate governing council she has relaxed into being a wise and benevolent leader.

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progressing steadily

She is a very experienced mother and handles her calvings in a way that many humans could learn from. She started calving yesterday morning and having put her in a calving pen I left her to get on with it. After a couple of hours I was surprised she hadn’t produced her calf; she wasn’t showing any signs of distress so I continued to monitor her at a distance.

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In these extraordinary poses she is almost squatting, straining to open up the pelvic cavity. I’ve never seen another cow do this other than Jennifer.

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Another couple of hours went past; I was getting a little worried, even though Jennifer appeared unperturbed and was calmly working with her contractions. I decided to check the calf was presented correctly and alive. Everything was as it should be, so I left her to continue. At last, at four-thirty the feet were out and the head had filled the birth cavity, almost six hours after her water sack had first appeared; now she was exhausted.

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the last stages. you can see the two white hooves, still in their sack, and the bulge of the head behind them.

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I decided to attach ropes to the calf’s legs and help her with this last stage. It took hardly any effort on our part; she’d worked so hard at relaxing and opening the birth canal in preparation for the birth. So with a firm but gentle pull from us and a final push from her a monstrously huge but beautiful calf was at last born. Worn-out, shattered, she nevertheless immediately turned her attention to her calf; lowing in gentle velvet-soft tones, nickering and licking him into rosy pink life. Sneezing and jerking he gradually opened his eyes becoming aware of his surroundings and his mother. Buffeted and stimulated by her rasping, massaging tongue, almost immediately his pink wet nose and softly whiskered mouth indented, his tongue lengthened and curled as he nubbed and bumbled his mothers damp red hide searching for milk.

This calf is bigger than Jemima’s born just over a month ago! Generally big calves experience trauma during their birth making them slow and a bit addled – standing, feeding and sucking can be a big problem. Jennifer handled the whole calving in such a way that not only was she undamaged from having given birth to such a large animal but so was her baby. He was standing and sucking within the hour and though Jennifer has taken a bit longer to cleanse (expel the afterbirth) they are both doing well.

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