Emma was due last Wednesday. All week, I was on edge, moody and impatient and unsettled.
The day she was due, Emma acted totally normal, except it seemed to me that she was eating an awful lot, and aggressively fast, too. Was I imagining things? Or was I just now noticing how much cows ate because I was staring at her so much? Or was excessive grass-munching the cow version of nesting?
When my husband came back in from milking Daisy the next day, he reported that Emma still seemed perfectly normal, which made my stress levels shoot even higher — I had events planned for the next day and I really didn’t want to have to reschedule OR miss the birth. But there was nothing I could do about it, so I headed out on a walk.
When I got back an hour later, the kids were down in the field. “How’s Emma?” I shouted. They called something back, but I couldn’t hear what. Then my son gestured for me to come down. So I went into the house to change into old sneakers and grab my camera and phone — but they were nowhere to be found. Which meant only one thing: the kids had them. Emma must be in labor!
I dashed out the door without even taking time to change my shoes (sorry, new sneakers!) and sprinted down through the field, arriving at the bottom just in time to see Emma getting to her feet. I’d missed it! I was so irked, but when I realized the kids had documented it for me, I calmed down. I mean, the birth was over so there wasn’t much I could do about it anyway, right? (But seriously! An hour-long labor and delivery? Good grief! Emma’s basically a bovine birthing goddess.)
I spent the next couple hours down in the field, watching as the calf figured out how to stand and then nurse — getting myself nice and sunburned in the process. The flies were nuts; they coated the new calf so thickly it looked like she was diseased. (Once the calf dried off, they mercifully dissipated somewhat.) I was hoping to see the afterbirth but I never did, though later that day I noticed several vultures down in the field, so maybe they got it?)
Our whole weekend revolved around Emma.
How engorged is too engorged? It can look pretty bad in the beginning, but as long as the calf is nursing and the udder isn’t hot to the touch, it’s probably fine. After a couple days, the swelling and hardness reduces dramatically.
When do we separate the calf? At the one-week point.
How much should we milk in the beginning? Once a day, a pint from each quarter, and gradually increase as we go. (We didn’t know this and way over-milked in the beginning and then I spent an anxious day or two worrying we’d over-milked — she’s fine.)
Is it common for a new mother to have diarrhea? Don’t know — might be the additional grain we’re giving her?
We’re still relatively new to this family cow thing, so we’re figuring it out one step at a time. Actually, this stage of the milking process is all new to my husband since our younger son took care of Daisy for the first six months. And speaking of my husband: he is good at a lot of things but planning and preparedness is not one of them. Lemme ‘splain.
Before a big event, like, say, a second milk cow, I stress and worry and fall apart while my husband pretends nothing is happening which makes me stress even more and then when the anticipated inevitable happens, he falls to pieces. This means that not only do I have to deal with the extra expected work, I also have to contend with a husband who is wildly upset and indignant about the unanticipated inconvenience. I mean, who could’ve known that a pregnant cow would actually give birth, right??? The audacity!
So a few weeks back, in anticipation of a couple stressful weeks post-calving, I laid down some ground rules, the gist of which boiled down to: If you prefer to wait to the last minute to get stuff done because you work best that way, fine, but don’t snap at me when you get frustrated.
So far, he’s holding up his end of the deal admirably well. While he chases Emma around the field and stomps about searching for proper-length hoses and tries to figure out how to put a halter on a cow, I practice lots of standing, waiting, and tongue biting. “Stop smirking!” he shouts as he makes another lunge for the calf, and then we both bust up laughing. He knows!
As for Emma and the calf, they’re both doing great. When it comes to milking, Emma’s a dream. As long as she has her calf next to her, she just placidly stands there. The couple times I’ve hand milked her, I can actually rest my head on her side.
And the calf, which we named Fiona, is super sweet and spunky. Half A2/A2 Jersey and half Devon, she has some seriously gorgeous coloring. Already it feels like she’s nearly doubled in size.
Here we go!
This same time, years previous: on being a family of four, baa-baa fat sheep, stuffed poblanos, about that house (and some news!), snake charmer, sauteed lambsquarters with lemon, ice cream supper, Shirley’s sugar cookies.