Glory in the Morning
Every day is a gift. Each morning brings with it new challenges, new dreams, and new hope for the day ahead. But some mornings on the homestead bring extra joy, and little Glory is just that.
Our main milk cow, Lissy, has grown into the sweet worker and friend that we dreamed she would be. She is a faithful producer of thick, creamy, foam-topped milk each morning. She is patient, loving, gentle, and consistent. (Unless she's in heat. Then all bets are off.) One of her greatest qualities is her outstanding ability as a mother.
When she had Dandy (her second calf, but our first on the homestead), we were all nervous new parents. We worried that she wouldn't know what to do with the calf. We worried he wouldn't get colostrum soon enough. We worried that she wouldn't keep him warm. In the end, we found that she knew exactly what she was doing. With that calf--and with each calf since then--she has been attentive and capable, knowing exactly what to do.
As she neared the end of her fourth pregnancy this spring, we began to wonder if this calf would be late. She wasn't showing any of the usual restlessness or agitation we expect in the weeks leading up to labor. She had an air of peaceful waiting about her. She basked in the sun, stretching out her face to be petted or to give us a lick on the hand. She stood, watching Buttercup and her baby, Fern, go through the daily rhythms of a cow's life.
Two weeks prior to her due date, Lissy experienced the "hormone storm" that we have come to expect as delivery approaches. As the cow's body prepares for labor, there is a rush of estrogen that can cause the pregnant cow and any others in the pen with her to act like they're suddenly in heat. Buttercup and Lissy took turns chasing each other around the pen, mounting, and being generally so cranky that the milkmaid was glad to get the day's tasks done! The next morning everything had returned to normal--sanity again reigned in the paddock. This was a good marker for us that the pregnancy was on schedule. Over the next two weeks we watched as her udder began steadily filling in preparation for her new baby.
The evening of Good Friday, I took extra time with Lissy, checking her udder, scratching the spots on her sides that she couldn't reach, and placing my hands in the deep hollows between her tail base and pin bones to feel how relaxed the ligaments had become. And yet still she didn't seem ready for labor to begin. She was due the next day, but she was calm. Throughout Saturday, she continued to wait, and it was not until late Saturday evening that she began searching her pen for the spot. We have become familiar with the restless search that a cow in labor undertakes. No matter how well we have prepared the loafing shed, each cow must wander the enclosure until she finds the perfect spot to have her baby. Lissy was favoring a high, dry area on the southeast corner of the enclosure, although all of her other babies had been born in the loafing shed. We decided it would be best if we took turns checking through the night. Greg and I checked her at 11:30 p.m., Sam and Kindra had the next check at 1:30 a.m., and we were going to continue every two hours until morning if nothing happened.
But at 1:30, Sam and Kindra found her to be very alert and restless. She was scanning the surroundings--even looking up toward the stars overhead--and making soft calf calls to the baby that hadn't been born yet. She showed the expectant agitation we had been watching for during the past days, and we knew it was almost time. After a brief conference inside, we decided to check her again at 2:00.
We were too excited to wait that long.
At 1:45, we found a very wet, slippery calf already on the ground. Lissy was busy licking it as it made its first attempts to raise its head, clear its airways, and look around. We were delighted to see that it was a tiny heifer, alert and spunky. She tried to stand within the first 15-20 minutes, but it took some time before she was able to get her footing. Lissy is very comfortable with our presence during calving, and she allowed me to come into the enclosure for a closer look at the baby. Little Glory was wobbling from side to side, struggling to keep her back legs under her on the straw, which was slimy with afterbirth. We let her struggle for several minutes, but when she seemed like she was becoming exhausted from the effort, I picked her up and carried her into the dry loafing shed. Lissy followed immediately, and over the next hour both Lissy and I worked to help Glory find out where the milk comes from.
Some calves find their dam's udder immediately, but many do not. It is vital that they get colostrum into their systems within the first two hours of life. When a calf is born, they have essentially no immune system--their intestinal wall is open to receive the nutrients that colostrum provides, but that means that it is also open to any pathogens that might enter. Unless the calf gets colostrum while its system is still open, it will have virtually no immune system. Calves who don't get colostrum rarely survive. Because of this we always keep some powdered replacement in the freezer for emergencies. We also milk out colostrum from our cows just after calving (they produce much more than the calf needs), and save it in the freezer as well. Nothing is as good as the real thing.
It was 4:00 a.m. on Easter morning before we returned to the house, finally confident that Glory had gotten enough colostrum to supply her with the necessary nutrients. By the time the sun rose on the farmyard, she was up, tottering eagerly around her enclosure, eager to learn about her new world.
Each of our cows and calves is named for a flower or plant in successive alphabetical order. We knew that this calf would have a "G" name, and we were toying with the idea of calling her Goldenrod (Goldie for short). But on Easter morning, nothing seemed as appropriate as naming her for the gloriosa daisy. Glory is a beautiful gift; she is a reminder of what a miracle it is when life is born into the world.
"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory..." (John 1:14)
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