I love September. There's still plenty of summer left but the subtle changes are starting to appear. The trees in the timber are a little less green, the pumpkins and butternut squash are ripening while their vines are starting to wither. The apples are turning sweeter with the last blast of hot weather and the bees are busier than ever. Best of all, Clarise had a healthy calf on September 1. Last year she lost her calf to coyotes or, as the vet thought, a large cat because the injuries were consistent with a predator coming down from the trees on top of her. Clarise and Alice, along with their calves, are closer to the barn so they're safe and easy to bring in for milking.
Frostbite, named because she was born in February 2007 which was a very cold February, had a mother who wouldn't stop licking her ears. We tried putting a stocking cap on her to protect her ears but the cow kept on licking them. We tried using bitter apple (it prevents animals from licking a wound) on the calf's ears, the cow kept on licking them anyway. As ridiculous as it sounds we tried using a helmet, socks, foam tubing, just about everything we could think of to keep the cow from licking her calves ears. After a couple days the cow stopped licking them but the tips were frostbitten. The calf lost the tips of her ears so we named her Frostbite. Her ear tag number is 711. Our ear tag numbering system is simple; year of birth, birth order in the herd. The dams number goes on the bottom of the tag, the bulls number on the top. Frostbite was the eleventh calf born in 2007. She's easily identifiable in the herd - she's the cow with the short ears.
Last week Keith came in the house and asked if I'd make two doses of vaccine for the new calves. I asked which cows calved Keith was pretty sure that Frostbite had twins. We've never had a set of twin calves before. At first he wasn't sure if Frostbite had twins or if a heifer had left her calf behind. Cows always hide their newborn calves. The cow will walk to an area of tall grass and let her calf know that they're not to leave the area unless she comes for them. Amazingly, the calves obey. They'll stay exactly where they're left, not moving, until the cow comes for them. Frostbite hid her calves in two different patches of grass. As Keith watched he figured out they were both hers. When he started walking into the field she looked toward where each was hidden and then walked in the opposite direction to throw Keith off course. Before a cow tries to lead you away from her calves she'll always glance toward them. If you're observant you'll catch her gaze and figure out where she's hidden them. Keith waited patiently for her to go to her calves. He watched her from a distance so she wouldn't know he was there. Eventually she went into the tall grass and nudged one calf to nurse. After a few minutes she left this calf, walked across the pasture to another area, and aroused her second calf. Keith showed me where both calves were. We vaccinated, ear tagged, and briefly examined them. Frostbite had a heifer and a bull calf. The heifer calf is a 'freemartin' meaning she'll be infertile. When a cow has a mixed set of twins the female is born chimeric; she starts out with XX chromosomes but acquires an additional XY chromosome in utero from the male twin. Freemartinism is the normal outcome of mixed-sex twins in cattle. Same sex cattle twins aren't effected by this.
After a few days the cows stop hiding her calves. They'll join the herd and play with the other calves under the watchful eyes of all the cows.
The grass is pretty sparse this spring. The warm weather just got here but it isn't here to stay, yet. A snowy mix of precipitation is forecast for May 2. This is May, isn't it? The cattle are back on pasture but are moving more frequently to keep them grazing and the new grass from being trampled. Last night as we were setting up fences I saw one cow off by herself, she went off to have her calf. A few minutes later she delivered a big, healthy heifer. Life is good! When all the cows had been moved Keith went back for the cow and her calf. He ended up carrying the calf because she hadn't been on her feet for more than a few minutes and it was a long walk.