• Emily

Our Little Dandy

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

 our calf, Dandy, at two days old

It was with anxious trepidation that we waited for the first calf to be born on the homestead. Since our Sweet Alyssum brought her heifer, Buttercup, with her when we purchased her, we hadn’t gone through the experience of calving until her second calf came. In the weeks that led up to parturition, we watched carefully for every change in behavior and body. As all of our resources had told us, she started bagging up two or three weeks ahead. It wasn’t until a week before the birth that we started noticing more subtle changes:

  • Her hormones were raging, initiating mounting behavior

  • Her pin bones (and whole pelvic area) relaxed and changed shape

  • Her coat started growing in different directions and changed texture

Lissy waits for calving in the sunshine

During the two days leading up to calving we checked her every few hours, including through the night. She was restless and visibly uncomfortable, each step looking more difficult than the last. The day of calving we watched her for hours, noting each new behavior:

  • She paced back and forth, frequently walking backward a few steps

  • She searched the paddock for the right place to lay down, and then got back up again to continue searching

  • She began to kick at her belly and paw the straw as if she were forming a nest

  • She lost interest in her hay and would begin eating only to quit and go back to restless pacing

  • Her udder, which had already grown to an enormous size, was so swollen that it curved out behind her legs (partially due to edema)

  • Her teats were tight and slightly shiny

  • Her—ahem—hindmost parts, which had been relaxing for days, were puffy, even rubbing against her tail

Shortly after sunset, she returned to the loafing shed and lay down again, as she had many times throughout the day. I finished evening chores and brought out the kerosene lantern to keep watch, sensing that she was finally near the event. By the flickering light, I saw her shifting uncomfortably and could hear her straining in the straw. I moved closer—just close enough to see where she was positioned—and waited. As the first water sack began to emerge, I called Kindra and Sam to come from the house and we gathered outside the shed entrance, our muscles tense and eyes dilating to take in as much of the meager light as possible. She was breathing hard, straining with the forces of her body to bring that calf into the world. Two tiny hooves emerged, and we all took a gasp of air. “Now the nose,” we murmured to one another. “We need to see the nose.” Lissy strained, pushing the feet forward a few inches, and then relaxed and allowed them to pull back again. A few more minutes passed, and we could see a tiny, slimy face following the hooves. Getting the head free was the most difficult part. We held our breath with each contraction, longing to help, offering words of encouragement that were as much for our comfort as for hers. Then, suddenly, the head was free and the calf was out. Lissy stood up, immediately cleaning up the straw and licking the calf clean. By the yellow glow of the lamp, we could see the calf flop its head back and forth a few times and then let out a tiny, bleating cry. We laughed then—and cried a little.

The whole birth had taken less than thirty minutes, and he was drinking colostrum by the 55-minute mark. We had worried that, as a January calf, little Dandelion (Dandy) may not stay warm enough or be as vigorous as he should, but within a few days he was up and running around the pen as only a calf can. I started milking the morning after calving, setting some colostrum aside in the freezer for an emergency at another freshening and hoping that it’s never needed. Lissy is an outstanding mama, always vigilant, always talking to her baby in a short, low “mmm.”

Lissy Cow talks to her calf, Dandy

I’m sure we will see many births here on the homestead, but none of us will forget what it was like to stand together in the circle of lamplight watching, waiting, and praying for our sweet cow. Birth is a miracle and every baby, a gift. And what a gift he is, our little Dandy.


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