From the Farm: Calves are best when they are brown

( I’m taking a week off. Enjoy this column from February 2008.)

It’s been a long time since all four of us have been happier than a pig in, well you know what.

Speedy, Russell’s Jersey calf, was looking a bit uncomfortable. Her udder was swollen something fierce.

Depending on what you are, swollen udders could be a bad thing.

On a heifer, just getting ready to have her first calf, during the coldest part of the winter, a swollen udder is not a good thing.

Udder edema means there is poor circulation in the udder. Poor circulation can lead to frostbite. This year, we have already had two heifers that have frozen the tips of their teats, and no, ice cream does not come from frozen teats.

So anyway, noticing that Speedy was a bit uncomfortable, Saturday morning Steve gave her a shot of something to help her start the formidable task of labor.

I’m quite sure it wasn’t a shot of schnapps. I would imagine a heifer, in labor, might appreciate a good stiff shot of whiskey. I mean, some of them make enough noise that we can hear them up by our house.

We checked on Speedy several times Saturday. The medicine should start to work within 48 hours. Nothing exciting was happening.

Nada, zilch, zippo.

Sunday morning. Russell rolled out of bed at 7:30 and Steve immediately said, “Russell, you should go check on Speedy.”

It just so happened I had to be to church early that day, so I offered to check on her on my way to prepare a breakfast for the people that were going to attend a breakfast after church that morning.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked into the calving barn. There it was – the most adorable, huggable little brown calf, I had ever seen.

Even though I was dressed in some of my Sunday finest – just kidding, I had on jeans and my wool coat – I had to go into the pen to see what that calf was: a boy or a girl. Curiosity is something I am not short on. I am always questioning who, what, where, when or why.

Drives my kids nuts.

I reached between the calve’s back legs and felt nothing! Nothing never felt so good.

“It’s a heifer calf,” I yelled. I was a bit disappointed when I remembered there wasn’t a human soul present to celebrate with me. The other cows-in-waiting didn’t really appreciate my excitement and started running around in circles because of my created commotion.

I made a quick decision. I was already late for my early appointment at church. I just had to share the good news with Russell.

I came into the house, walked calmly (that was hard for me) through the laundry room and stood in the doorway to Steve’s office. (He was doing some early morning bookwork.)

“It’s girl!” I exclaimed.

“No way,” the proverbial doubter said.

Russell came running down the stairs, in shorts ready to go out to the barn. I put the kibosh on that and told him to at least put jeans on. (“It’s cold out there boy!”)

I said to the doubter, “Yes it is. I reached between her back legs and there was nothing there. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.”

Misidentifying a bull or heifer happens to everyone who works on the farm. It’s nothing more than extremely embarrassing.

Later Sunday, when it came time to feed the little tyke, now known as Sanders (after Indianapolis Colts player Bob Sanders), all four of us had to go out to give her proper care. It was so icy, of the four of us, three ended up on our backs. I made Joey try to drag me across the ice, because I was afraid to stand up. When he couldn’t get any traction to pull this dead weight, I decided it was best to crawl to the calf barn.

I put my knees in one frozen foot print after the other.

Isn’t it amazing what we go through for a cute, adorable, huggable Sanders?

For questions, or comments, e-mail me at

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