From the Farm: Snow day means more work

I am beginning to think Steve and the Mother Nature are in diabolical cahoots.

Every time Steve leaves the farm, Mother Nature has to give the rest of us a survival test.

Last year, Steve went fishing and the bathroom pipes froze. This time, Steve and Mitch, our herdsman, went to the Dairy Expo in St. Cloud and Mother Nature whipped up a blizzard.

Wednesday morning, I woke up at quarter-to six and glanced out the stairwell window. I noticed one employee didn’t show up, but I knew both Joey and Russell were in the barn already. I made my pot of coffee and decided to go out side to help with chores. Coffee is my first priority.

When I left the house I almost fell over the four-foot snow drift piled by the front door. Yup, morning chores were going to take a bit longer. There were a several sizeable snow drifts that would have to be moved before any machinery could crawl through our yard.

Joey, Russell and I milked the cows in between our spontaneous air-guitar contest. I received second place with my hand banging; Joey received third with his windmill and Russell pulled out all the stops. He slid across the parlor floor, baseball style, while playing his guitar.

When it came time to feed the cows, I crawled into the skid loader to move snow so Russell could skillfully maneuver the feed mixer out of the garage. Yes, we put it in our heated garage, so it wouldn’t freeze. Steve had mixed a majority of the ingredients for us the day before. We only needed to add corn silage.

Several four-foot drifts were curled around the front of the garage. Normally this wouldn’t be such a task, but the skid loader windows kept icing over from my hot breath. I had to scrape the interior of the windows so I could see where I was driving. Several times I had to stop completely and open the door to get a feel for where the snow drifts were hiding.

I should mention Joey was taking care of the non-milking animals on the farm. He was feeding and watering the cows that are in the calving barn and feeding the one calf that we have here.

As I was moving snow off the walkway for the cows, I observed Joey walking toward me and waving his arms in a semi-urgent YMCA-type sign. I think he was trying to give the SOS sigh.

“There’s a new calf and something doesn’t look right with the mother,” Joey said. “It looks like there might be another calf coming.”

I gave the skid loader driver’s seat to Russell. He would have to finish clearing snow and feeding.

Sure enough, Cow 346 was cleaning off her first calf and the second calf’s back legs were emerging.

The clock was ticking. When a calf is born in a breech position, time is a precious commodity. The sooner that calf comes out, the more likely that calf will live.

Of course, the cow didn’t really appreciate me reaching in with my ice cold hands, so we had to chase her around the calf barn for a bit. It sure was nice and warm when I did finally reach in to find the calf.

I pulled one leg out; reached in again and found the second leg. Apparently the calf didn’t like my cold hands either because it kept pulling its leg away from me.

Once I had both legs out, I pulled on the calf’s legs each time the cow gave a push. Three generous pushes later; we were blessed with a new heifer calf.

Let’s all say, “Woop! Woop!” Joey and I did the traditional high five.

I pretty much man-handled the new calf to get it to wake up and deep breathe. I stuck my fingers into the back of her mouth to check for fluid and I stuck my finger into one of its nostrils to make it angry at me, in an effort to get it to want to live. I wasn’t going to lose a calf during my watch of the farm. It worked and the calf started trying to lift her head.

“What is the other calf?” I asked Joey.

“I don’t feel any [male parts],” Joey said. “It must be a girl.”

(I wanted to double-check on my own, but I figured that would look like I didn’t trust Joey, so I went with his declaration.)

Now that made my day. Nothing beats a pair of heifer calves from a strong, high-producing cow.

And we did it all on our own.

This column previously ran in November 2009.

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