Friday, July 5, 2013

Udderly Unexpected

Last summer when we  bred Lafonda she did not settle (that's official farmer talk for  a cow becoming pregnant.)  When she went into heat a  couple of months after breeding,I  had the vet do a pregancy check and he confirmed she was open (again, farmer talk for  a cow not being pregnant.)  I decided not to try breeding her again that fall because a) I was trying to reduce my herd size and hadn't yet sold any cows, b) gestation is 9 months and I preferred not to have a calf born in the heat of summer and flies, and c) a summer with no milking sounded kind of nice and laid back.  But all spring and summer I have been looking at her flat, saggy udder, feeling a bit wistful about not having any calves and not having the summer milking routine, not to mention the milk for making ice cream, yogurt and cheese.

Actually, I have counted my blessings that it worked out not having calves this spring. It would have been a cold and muddy time to to be born this spring-- with all the deep mud, the poor babies would have had a miserable and possibly dangerous time getting around.  And milking such a cow would have been horrible this muddy, muddy spring- I would have had to essentially give her a bath before every milking session.

So now I have been agonizing over whether to sell the cows.  Hay  is going to be very costly this winter, if you can even get it.  Although I can't really afford to have 2 "pet" cows if they will cost $15 a day to feed, I could get a part time job to support them (yes, that is the kind of farmer I am!) but I am worried about even being able to obtain the hay.  What if I can't  find enough hay to get through the winter!!?  I  don't want to sell just one cow and have an only cow --they are herd animals.  It will probably be a challenge to sell two cows that are open and not in milk. And it is time to consider breeding them for next spring,  decisions about  semen have to be made in the next week or so so it can be delivered in time for their next heat cycle. Being bred would make them more salable, probably, but if I can't sell them, then I face possibly having 4 animals in the spring!  These are things I have  been weighing  many times a day as I consider the options.
The past couple days looking at LaFonda I have thought, "hmm, funny, her udder looks a bit swollen." I decided it must be due to the hormones of coming into in heat. I hadfigured out that  LaFonda and Jitter must be  cycling  at the same time  (it's kind of hard to tell which cow is in heat sometimes) and that will make it easier for breeding them.
Well,  night before last  when I led them back to the main pasture  LaFonda's back quarters looked very swollen. I have never heard of a cow getting mastitis  when they are not lactating, but I put my hand on her udder to make sure it wasn't feverish or hard. It was soft and full, and with the mildest touch, milk came out! What the heck?!!
So I went online to the Family milk Cow forum and asked what could be going on? The consensus was, either she is pregnant (that she had probably gotten out, found a bull somewhere, had a rendezvous, and  gotten back in without my knowing it, or a bull had surreptitiously visited us) or more likely, that our 2-year-old heifer, Jitterbug was nursing on her and had brought her back into milk. We were pretty certain neither of those things had occurred - there are no bulls in the vicinity to our knowledge, and we have never seen any sign of Jitter nursing on her.

This morning when I gave the cows their little treat of grain, I tried "bumping" LaFonda.  You  push in sharply with the palm of your hand on the right side of the cow at a certain spot. If there is a calf in there, it will bump you back. I have tried this when our cows were pregnant  before and never had any success, but I read up on it and found diagrams to make sure I had the technique  right. When I pushed in the first time, nothing; I did it again and was shocked to see a  bump bulge back out at me!!  There IS a calf in there!
I wish LaFonda could tell me who the father is! I have finally come up with a theory- unlikely, but the most plausible to me.  We harvested our steer, Lindy, LaFonda's 18-month-old calf on November 9th.  I am thinking he maybe wasn't  really a steer, at least not entirely. We had trouble banding him, so a couple months later had our neighbor dairy farmer  use the burdizzo to make sure he was a steer.   I am guessing that  procedure didn't succeed and Lindy bred Lafonda between the time the vet did the pregnancy check and Lindy left for freezer camp. That would mean we might expect a calf by the first week of August.

I can't deny, I am kind of  delighted by this crazy development.  A darling little calf!!  And with these parents, it should be beautiful and have a fantastic, gentle disposition. Yes, kind of weird that it would be the product of an incestuous relationship, but I understand in the world of cattle breeding that  pairing is not unheard of when trying to emphasize certain traits.  And LaFonda herself is a mutt, so  at least she is not  highly inbred.

So, I must get to work!   Because I knew I wasn't having any calves this year, I have transformed the miking parlor into storage for my beekeeping and sculpture supplies.  I have a lot of reorganizing to do!  And rethinking about  how to get hay or whether to sell any cows...


Tyche's Minder said...

Yay! What a great surprise.

Tami said...

Well how about THAT! Funny how things work out isn't it?

Abby said...

Crazy! Olivia and I can't wait to visit again!

Vera said...

Wow! Rather amazing. Hard to imagine Lafonda sneaking out one night for a secret tryst with an itinerant bull. Your explanation seems most possible, however unlikely. (Sherlock Holmes said something about that, along the lines of, when all other possibilities have been eliminated, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be the explanation.) But a couple other possibilities: 1) a bovine immaculate conception (spontaneous cloning or cleistogamous fertilization?); or 2) can cows store semen, as do chickens (I'm told), some insects, and (I think I remember) some reptiles?

Anonymous said...

ummmm... I would say that the cow god has spoken ! What are the odds of this happening ? Find some hay and prepare to continue to be a dairy woman ! She is a fine cow and is attached to you--you could sell off her calf after it gets bigger and make a little money. Please keep her. I like her. I also enjoy your blog! How are the chickens doin ? anyway, thanks for sharing your life on the farm for all of us to enjoy ! Todd