Excitement at Anthill Farm

[gallery ids="537,533,535,534,536"] Our family has kept a dairy cow for the last three years. We are new to bovines; both Rachael and I grew up in the city and next-to-no contact with an animal larger than a Labrador Retriever. So while we've been through the births of two calves on our farm, we would never venture to call ourselves experts in any sense of the word. Partly, this is the result of time, but it somewhat has to do with the fact that Violet (our dairy cow) is so totally self-sufficient in giving birth at the time and place of her choosing with no intervention on our part. Because of that, we've been spoiled into a kind of complacency, doing very little beyond making sure there's fresh bedding, plenty of water for her to drink and access to the barn when we know that the birth is imminent.
All of this to say that we weren't prepared for what awaited us when we went down for morning chores last Wednesday. As we left the house, I thought I caught just a snippet of Violet's gentle "get up calf" moo. I dismissed it as it was still a few days early for her to calve and she's always been late. Must have been road noise, I told myself. We walked down from the house, me with a pair of water buckets (since the frost-free hydrant down by the barn seized up over a month ago, a major bother at first, but now just part of our routine) and Rachael with some scraps from the kitchen for the chickens.
As I approached the spring gates that hold the cow in the paddock and field, I heard the "get up calf" moo again and I knew something was up. I called to Rachael, who was at the other end of the barn turning off the electric fence, so that she would hurry over. Violet was out of both the barn and the paddock and just far enough away in the new daylight savings time darkness (this was about 6:30am), all I could see was her outline and some lumps in the field that could have been piles of hay that she hadn't eaten. They weren't.
As we entered the gate and walked over to where she was, we saw them. That's right, them.
Two calves were laying out in what had been snow but was now ice. Never mind that we had purposely bought straw for the barn, an expense we hadn't allowed ourselves all winter, contenting ourselves with the absorptive qualities of third-cut hay instead. She had instead elected to give birth in one of the coldest spots of the field. Rachael, bless her soul, immediately decided on a course of action. It's important for me to remember at times like these what a great team we make, because once all the shooting's over, we have very different styles of dealing with stressful situations like this.
She grabbed the goading stick (a sawn off piece of shovel handle) and held off Violet while I grabbed each of the two calves and carried them into the barn. Don't get the wrong impression; the stick is just intended as a way to even the odds with the Violet, who has her horns and doesn't hesitate to shake her head and waggle them if she is upset. After she's given birth, upset is a bit of an understatement. She is fiercely protective of her calves and probably tired and hopped up on hormones. All of this is completely understandable and part of what makes her such a great mother.
That said, nobody needs to get hurt.
Once the calves were successfully moved, Violet followed along into the barn and proceeded to lick the little heifer. The bull (now named Nick) looked pretty bad. He wasn't moving much and we feared he wouldn't make it. Nora (the heifer) looked pretty good, though she wasn't making any attempt to get up and nurse either. After letting things ride for a couple of hours, our friends Ben and Penny came over with a five-gallon bucket filled about half full with colostrum. After Ben pushed Violet out of the barn, we fed about half a bottle to each of them and dried them off with towels. After that, everything has looked up. By Thursday afternoon, as you can see above, they had perked up considerably.
I say everything looked up, but there is a downside to having a heifer and a bull as twins and it's called freemartinism (a funny word we can't find the origin for). Basically it means that there's a 90% chance the heifer will be sterile. Our elation at having a bull to beef in the fall and a heifer to train to be another milker was dashed. Not all is lost though; it just means there'll be a little more meat in the freezer this year.