Our Year on the Farm


Do You Deliver?

The calving process provided one of our most poignant memories of that year on the farm.

One weekend a couple we’d known in college came to visit us. We were having brunch when the wife, who had never been on a farm before, sighed wistfully.

“You know, I’ve always wanted to watch a calf being born,” she said.

I’d seen a cow heading down to the barn with two hoofed feet protruding from her stern.

“Well, you’re in luck,” I replied with the smugness of my newfound agricultural expertise, nearly spitting my coffee across the table in my enthusiasm. Glancing out the kitchen window, I’d seen a cow heading down to the barn with two hoofed feet protruding from her stern. We leapt from the table and trotted down the lane to behold the blessed event.

It was a breech delivery, and the vet was unavailable—evidently shoulder-deep in someone else’s heifer. The cow had been in distress for some time. When we arrived at the barn, Jim, our landlord, was already putting a halter on her head and lashing the lead to a steel ring in the wall. Her condition was critical; he was desperate to save her.

He deftly bound the calf’s protruding feet with some nearby baling wire.  At one end of the wire he’d tied a 12-inch length of broom handle, and he grasped this with both hands. Placing both feet on the cow’s flanks, he pushed and pulled with all his considerable strength. The calf didn’t budge.

The next step was more drastic. He fastened one end of a “come-along” (a cable equipped with a ratcheting tightener) to the calf’s feet and the other end to a steel ring in the opposite wall. Pumping the ratchet quickly, he made the cable taut before slowing down and steadily increasing the tension. The poor cow was bawling and snorting in her halter. Her eyes bulged wildly. The only effect of this procedure was to stretch the cow’s neck until I thought her head would fly off.

The final attempt, born not so much of ingenuity as of desperation, stunned us. Lips pursed, our landlord glanced at his oldest boy, who was assisting him.

“Barry, get the tractor.”

Moments later we were staring at the business end of a big International. Jim hooked one end of a logging chain around the calf’s feet and the other to the tractor’s towing bar. From his cow’s side he waved his son out of the barn. The tractor’s engine surged, the cow bellowed, and –Wham! Before we knew it, a 90-pound bull calf flopped down hard on the concrete floor.

My friend’s wife gasped, her lips trembling and tears streaking her face.

“Are they all like this?” she asked, apparently unaware of the absurdity of her question.

“Yep,” said her husband, always quick with the sarcastic retort. “In fact, cows didn’t even have calves before they invented the tractor.”

The tension broken, we all laughed. The cow recovered sufficiently to lick her baby clean, recycling the nutrient-rich placenta. Then, as we watched, her calf staggered to his feet and somehow made it to his mother’s side on his wildly flailing legs, looking for all the world like a drunk with his hips out of joint.

When we left, he was enjoying his first meal.

 

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