Why spring shouldn’t start in win­ter

When a calv­ing goes bad, there’s a pos­si­bil­ity of a sec­ond chance.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Tales Of A Country Vet - TR­ISHA FISK

Iam not sure who de­cided that July should be the start of spring. Maybe it was some desk wal­lah work­ing in the labyrinth of Fon­terra or Ruakura where the rain never reaches their air-con­di­tioned com­fort and cen­tral heat­ing keeps the en­vi­ron­ment the same, re­gard­less of what is hap­pen­ing out­side.

Be­cause I know, sure as eggs are oval, it wasn't the Big Guy up­stairs. It wasn't the dairy farm­ers get­ting up at 3am in the dark on an of­ten wet July morn­ing to bring the cows to the shed. And it sure wasn't the cows cop­ing with wind and rain or the calves dropped out of a nice warm uterus into a hor­ri­ble, cold day.

There is a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion to the sea­sons. The best time of year to be born is when the sun is warm and get­ting warmer and the grass is start­ing to rocket away and I'm sorry, but July just doesn't do it.

But such is the pres­sure of the bot­tom line that many dairy farm­ers are forced to try and get calves on the ground and cows in the shed in this mid-win­ter month. They're try­ing to get milk in the vat be­fore the sum­mer dry hits, try­ing to get all the cows milk­ing on the first graz­ing round of the pad­docks, and hop­ing like heck that while there isn't any grass growth now, there just might be in a cou­ple of months when the cows will be do­ing the sec­ond ro­ta­tion.

So as daft as it feels, July is of­ten the start of calv­ing and of calv­ing calls. These calls don't hap­pen on the clear warm nights - those cows usu­ally man­age all right on their own. No, it is usu­ally the stress of the bit­ter­est night and wettest down­pour that trig­gers an an­i­mal to calve be­fore they or their calf is truly ready, and that is when the prob­lems arise.

The Mc­glough­lans run a rea­son­able ship of about 180 cows but there is prob­a­bly not much free­board in the bud­get. David is typ­i­cally over­worked and underpaid while try­ing to get ahead, and Penny has had to take a teach­ing job to help make ends meet.

That meant it was up to David to do the morn­ing milk­ings on his own and this par­tic­u­lar day was a shitty July clas­sic: nearly hor­i­zon­tal rain and 50mm of it had pooled in the pad­docks overnight. There is no wet weather gear in­vented that can keep a man dry in these con­di­tions.

David got the calved mob milked and through the shed and ducked back to the house for break­fast. Nor­mally the man would have done a quick check of the springers (those close to calv­ing) be­fore go­ing on to other jobs but con­sid­er­ing the weather and his level of tired­ness, it was prob­a­bly not sur­pris­ing he fell asleep in the warm kitchen over his sec­ond cup of tea. When he woke, it was time to get the kids away to school and then he needed to set up the new break and the trac­tor had is­sues that needed sort­ing be­fore he could feed out so the springers missed out un­til later that evening.

These things don’t hap­pen

on warm, clear nights.

Then, with the weather still filthy, it was a quick zap around the pad­dock where there were four new­borns that needed bring­ing in and those cows drafted through to the milk­ing mob.

So it was at least a day and a half be­fore he found cow 596 tucked down in a gully, dis­guised with mud, her head down and bum up with a dead calf part­way out.

It wasn't a sim­ple case of pulling the calf out and she would be hunky dory ei­ther. The rough weather meant she was verg­ing on ke­tonic. She'd been un­able to eat while she was try­ing to calve, and the rough weather had made her cold so her body had switched to burn­ing what lit­tle fat re­serves it had. This led to the re­lease of ke­tones into the blood stream, cre­at­ing a ke­tonic or al­most cata­tonic state for the cow. She was com­pletely ga-ga so David raced back to call the cav­alry.

The Vet was busy, and this day more so than oth­ers. He had two downer cows to see to af­ter the rough weather and then a pro­lapse came in that de­manded his im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion so he warned David that with the miles to travel, it would be a cou­ple of hours. David opted to try the neigh­bour­ing vet prac­tice and they got a young grad­u­ate vet out within half an hour.

Cow 596 was calved, dosed up with Ke­tol and energy sup­ple­ments, draped in a warm horse blan­ket and given a trac­tor ride back to the re­cov­ery pad­dock close to the cow­shed where she could be watched.

The next day was Satur­day and Penny gave us a call first thing.

“I'm not happy with that cow they calved yesterday. She doesn't look happy and she's gone down again. Should I give her more sup­ple­ments?”

As chance would have it, the Vet was out that way on an ear­lier call and of­fered to stop in for a look-see.

Cow 596 was down all right. Legs stuck out side­ways and strain­ing.

“She looks like she is try­ing to calve,” he said.

“But they got the calf out. It was dead, a heifer with its head back,” said Penny.

“Well, it wasn't the only one in there,” the Vet an­nounced af­ter slip­ping his hand in. Soon enough he had his calv­ing chains around some front feet and pulled a nice lit­tle Friesian-cross, steam­ing and slip­pery, into the morn­ing light.

“Well I'll be…” said Penny. “What a lit­tle sweetie. Fancy miss­ing you.”

“It's a ba­sic mis­take, and most of us have made it at some stage,” the Vet said. “Twins are rare, but one al­ways needs to check for a sec­ond calf.”

“And it's another lovely lit­tle heifer,” said Penny. “I think she might end up as some­body's calf club pet. We can call her Abby. Our daugh­ter Abby is al­ways go­ing back for sec­onds too.” ■

I’m not happy with that cow they calved yesterday and she’s gone down again.

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