a birth party

For days we’ve been watching Daisy like a hawk. First thing each morning, I’d look out my bedroom window to see if she was still pregnant. As long as she was still eating, good. If she was laying down, I’d have to stare harder. Was she straining? Were her legs sticking straight out? Was her head thrown back? Sometimes I’d even walk down to the field myself, just to check on the state of things. Multiple times throughout the day, I’d ask the kids: Did you check her behind? Any liquid? Mucus? I spent lots of time at the kitchen window, just watching.

When she hit her Friday due date and still no calf, I gave up. She’s never going to give birth, I announced despairingly. But then on Saturday she appeared to be waddling more. Her udder was huge, my son reported, and really, really hard. And when he squeezed a teat, gross brown liquid came out.

Sunday morning, she grazed noticeably less. She walked more, and slower. There’s watery stuff coming out, the kids reported. Wonderful! We’d get to see the delivery! I’d been hoping she’d go into labor when we were home, it was light outside, and the weather was nice. This would be perfect. 

We decided we probably had enough time to drive into town for Ultimate — our first time back since the pandemic started, whoop! — so we left our younger son at home along with strict instructions to watch Daisy and to let us know if we should come home. 

One hour into the game, he texted us a photo.

“She is in labor,” he wrote. 

We came straight home, only pausing for a quick stop at the grocery store where I bought — I kid you not — a gallon of two-percent milk, a half gallon of lactose-free milk, and a quart each of whipping cream and half-and-half. It felt ridiculous to buy milk when we were on the verge of having our personal milk machine swing into action, but we were nearly out of everything and it’d be several days until she switched from colostrum to milk. 

As soon as we got home, I raced down into the field ready to watch the show, and what a show it was! For a good two hours, we sat at the bottom of the field in a semicircle around Daisy’s enormous bulk, arguing and talking, taking video and photos, and shivering. 

A Calving: In Three Parts
Part One: Water and Mucus
First to come out was the amniotic sac. Or part of it anyway. Each time Daisy bore down, the bubble of sac got progressively larger. And then, it began to swell at an alarming pace and we, suddenly realizing that we might be in for an unwelcome bath, beat a hasty retreat. When the sac burst, Daisy lunged forward, startled, and fluid whooshed out.

She settled back down and began licking the ground, either to get the milk that was squirting out of her teats, or to lap up the amniotic fluid. She did this for the entire labor: she’d pause for contractions and then, once it was over, resume her licking. 

Soon my parents arrived, bringing their lawnchairs and blankets. Is there any better entertainment for a leisurely Sunday afternoon than a calving? I think not. The only thing that wouldn’t made it even better was if we’d had David Attenborough on tap to narrate….

A second bubble of of liquid began to emerge.

Probably another part of the amniotic sac, we decided — but what if it was twins?! (It wasn’t.) This one was less taut and kind of drooped from her backside like a saggy water balloon. Oooh, look! Hooves inside! And they’re in the right position, yay! 

When it burst, a large part of it splatted onto the ground, and Daisy immediately set about slurping up the snot-like sac, much to our delighted horror.

Part Two: Active Labor
Now Daisy began to strain in earnest. For the longest time, it was just the two hooves.

And then— Hang on. What’s that? A tongue?

I quick texted our farmer friend: Tongue sticking out. Is that normal?
Yep, he replied. 

Each time Daisy finished another round of pushing, she’d snort and huff, spraying mucus everywhere. Come on, Daisy, we said, all of us now bovine doulas. You can do it. Push! Our eyes were fixed on those two little hooves. The hair on the legs was red, just like our farmer friend (and owner of the stud bull) had predicted. The hooves just moved! someone would say. Or, The tongue! I saw it wiggle!

And then — I see the nose! 

Bit by bit more of the nose emerged, and then the head — An eye! I see an eye! IT BLINKED — and then the whole head was out, and most of the body.

Daisy lay there for a minute, quiet, before standing up, and the calf’s hind feet slipped out the rest of the way. 

For a minute, Daisy casually nibbled grass before turning around to sniff the soggy calf.

And then, SNAP. It was like a switch flipped. Suddenly she was licking the calf all over, sucking on its ears, nudging it with her nose, and gently lowing. 

Part Three: Standing up and Eating
The calf was out but the show wasn’t over. Now I wanted to see it stand up and drink. I facetimed my daughter so she could watch. My older son showed up. Our neighbors came over. My brother and kids popped in. With each new arrival, Daisy would hold stock still and stare. It was almost menancing, the way she eyed us, and I found myself wondering if she might suddenly charge us. (She didn’t.)

I mused to my daughter how it seemed strange that sheep only have two teats when they typically have two or three lambs whereas cows, who only have one calf, have four teats (and in Daisy’s case, two extra little nubs as well). My daughter said, “See that little guy right there…?” It took a second for me to catch the Napoleon Dynamite reference (my husband got it right away), and then, without missing a beat, our neighbor, who I barely know, piped up from behind me, “This one tastes like it got into an onion patch,” and we all busted up laughing. A bunch of people in a cow pasture bonding over movies quotes — that, right there, is some seriously good movie power. 

It took a surprisingly long time — like a whole thirty minutes — for the calf to stand up. I’d thought it’d be mere minutes, but it took more like thirty, and with a lot of false starts. Each time he lunged forward, he’d tip over, toppling onto his head and then collapsing into a gangly heap. Dazed and tired, he’d rest for a bit and then try again.

All the while, Daisy kept circling him, licking and nudging and mooing. The first time he made it to his feet, he fell right over. The second time, though, he stayed upright and we all cheered.

But then each time he wobbled towards the udder, Daisy would lift her foot to kick him away. This I had not expected. What was wrong with her!

She kept kicking and spinning in circles, but he spun right along with her, staying upright and focused, and soon he was slurping loudly. 

We all headed up to the house then. I’d hoped to see the placenta but I was too cold to wait around. My son never found any sign of it in the field, so I imagine Daisy ate that, too. 

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.27.20), full disclosure, the quotidian (4.27.15), roasted carrot and red lentil soup, the Monday rambles.


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