Well this week was eventful. On Wednesday morning after being woken suddenly with a pounding migraine and being sick on the hour every hour, at 3 o’clock the local emergency ambulance service was called, run in our area by volunteers and very fast to our door, to whisk me off to Montlucon Hospital.
After a speedy and rather rolling drive, and me throwing up all the way, I found myself in a very clean and efficient emergency room. Throughout the day nurses managed patients quickly and entered everything onto one computer system. There were no volumes of notes as we seem to have back in England or continuous handovers. Eventually after a bit of vein searching, a drip was attached with painkillers and I got some respite from my head exploding. The sickness subsided but I still felt unwell and the doctor decided to keep me overnight under surveillance. The only thing I have to say, and I also find this in hospitals back in the UK, no one takes migraine seriously enough and tend to put us on back-burner in the queue. Migraines are painful, debilitating and the reason we go to hospital is because other side-affects, fainting, extreme vomiting, palpitations. Its isn’t a simple headache. But eventually it was my turn and the rest went smoothly.
Off to my own room, another drip and blood taken – “almost an arm full” – I got some sleep. The night staff woke me twice for more tests, and at the jolly early hour of 5.30am breakfast was served.
I was discharged and headed home feeling like a wrung out rag. But the migraine had gone.
Later that afternoon after our neighbouring farmer had caught up with my medical ins and outs, he returned excited to say that at last after we had been waiting for a good four days, the baby vache was coming. The mother had been listlessly waiting in the barn since the weekend, hoping for delivery on Sunday, but the calf was less inclined to rush and was staying put. She mooed and moped and I really thought I would miss this one off moment whilst stuck in my hospital bed.
But by luck our joint timing was perfect and very quickly the calf was born. So quickly that as we arrived the calf had tumbled into the straw and her mother was already licking and nudging her, encouraging her to move, with a rhythmic humming moo, low but decisive. As the calf struggled to rise, the moo quickened and the calf responded, back legs up first, nose on the ground, then up, four gangling legs swaying. Mother licked and nudged and the calf toppled. But with more encouragement and pushing and licking, the calf was finally up. Little eyes opening on the world, she had got to her feet in record time, just 20 minutes and Christian was overjoyed.
It was a clean birth, the calf was strong, and now all that was needed was for the calf to suckle its first milk – colostrum – antibodies to immunize. Confusion over the direction and with much pushing by mother, finally the calf suckled and we all breathed relief. 40 minutes, very swift from birth to milk ingestion and this little calf was ready for the world. The first milk should bypass the rumen, the first stomach full of bacteria to break down grass. It destroys milk protein, so the first milk, by the stance the calf holds its head, sharply upward when first born, brings the milk down a groove in the oesophagus and takes the milk into the safe second stomach. Clever stuff and immunization assured.
This milk has a 24 hours life span, beyond which the mother no longer produces this. Some farms freeze the milk for use where calves fail to suckle properly. Without this milk, the calf will be officially a runt, weak and prone to parasites.
Christian piled more straw in the pen for warmth, via a blower from the tractor. The cows do not mind, but the fine dust particles played havoc with my camera! A low light was kept on above for the mother to be able to see her calf and not accidentally step or sleep on her, whilst her and baby had a few hours to bond before heading out to grass.
I had taken a few photos, not many as I didn’t want to disturb them, and stayed for another half hour whilst the other cows were fed, Christian explained about ear tagging, not so good births, and how relieved he was a vet wasn’t required. The mother’s placenta would come out in time, and tomorrow they would be moved to the field near our home.
The ear tagging looked painful, but Christian carries this out early next morning and apparently less stressful than later after the calf has been in the field. With its mother for support, this is done quickly.
Calf 4063 had an undisturbed night. I also got some well-earned sleep and in the morning as we drove off to the doctors, Christian was manoeuvring the little calf by her tail, to follow her mother to the field. A little disorientated, she finally flopped down into a large grassy shaded area under the trees, where two other mothers with week old calves formed a nursery.
Today the three calves are chasing each other in the sunshine. They are making their mothers call them back from the other field, where they have skipped under the electric wire. They are playing tag, learning how to select grasses and snoozing. It is a wonderful sight.
Tomorrow they are moving next to us and I will have a better chance to get photographs. Taking pictures of these playful threesome is a big learning curve for me with my relatively new camera. Normally I take more static subjects. Their learning curve starts too, and I hope to record much of it over the coming years. Breeding beef cattle has some very sad moments, but like this week it’s been a very happy one and I am so please I got to be part of it.