I went out for chores a week ago a bit apprehensively. It was really cold out so all the animals had stayed in the barn that day.
I had just pushed the hay up to the cows when I noticed Eve. The heifer was standing in the south pen with her face to the wall. She was restlessly shifting her back feet and her tail was swishing, both sure signs that she was about to calve. As I went into her pen I saw a tiny hoof sticking out of her.
"Hey girl," I crooned as I came into her pen, "Are you going to have your baby?"
Eve turned her big head to look at me, her big brown eyes asking, "What's going on?"
This was Eve's first baby and she was confused. She was fighting against the contractions. A wet spot in the straw told me that her water had broken. Her udder was almost dry so it must have broken a while ago.
"Why don't you lay down, girl?" I asked Eve as I gently slid my right hand into her. "It would be a lot easier that way."
The calf's head and left front leg were coming just fine. I pushed my arm farther in to find the right front leg. As I passed my hand over the calf's fuzzy head it jumped backwards. That surprised me! I didn't know a calf could move so much inside its mother. I found the other leg, which was bent under the calf and moved it up to the proper position, alongside the calf's face. With a firm grip on both front legs, I waited for another contraction. When one came I pulled. The calf jerked both legs away from me, right out of my hands.
"Well, Eve, I guess your baby wants to do this by itself." I eased my hands out of the perplexed mother and leaned against the wall to wait.
Two minutes later my ten-year old sister, Rachel, came in the barn.
"Mom's home!" she said and then, "Oh, is Eve having her calf?!"
Rachel ran over and climbed up the pen wall to a good position to watch.
I reached back inside Eve. The once lively calf had stopped moving and its tongue was hanging out.
"Shoot," I said, "I think it's stopped breathing."
"I'll go get help!" she cried, running for the door.
"It's okay, Rachel, you probably don't need to anyway." But my gallant little sister was gone.
Once again, I took hold of the legs and pulled with the contractions. It really was stuck. Sometimes Eve mooed with the pain. Every time she did, I would talk nice to her until she calmed down. There is a trick to pulling a calf. A cow's contractions close to birth come pretty steady, about one hard push every ten seconds. When the cow pushes you have to pull hard, steadily and downward. While you're waiting for the next push, you have to fight to keep the calf from sliding back.
The head was the hardest part. It was a very tight squeeze. As soon I got the head out I was all over it, checking to see if the eyes were moving and trying to put its tongue back in its mouth. My fears were confirmed, it wasn't breathing.
Well, I wasn't going to let this calf die on me if I could help it. Having just been certified as a lifeguard and in CPR, I decided to put my training to the test. My instructor had been a little remiss on cow CPR, but I did my best. The next time I see her I will suggest she add bovine resuscitation to her class.
I put my mouth as far into the calf's mouth as I could and blew. Hard. Four times. Then I hit it on the chest a few times. I repeated the process about five times as best I could while trying to pull the calf out the rest of the way.
Erika came running into the barn with Rachel right behind her. Erika was panting and looked like she had dressed in a hurry.
We eased the calf the rest of the way out and set it in the straw. It just lay there.
"Come on, calf!" I cried, falling to my knees. I started blowing in its mouth again.
Erika started thumping its chest. She looked at the wet, brown baby. "It's a girl," she said.
We sat up and looked at her. The calf snorted, gasped and lay still. Erika thrust a piece of straw up its nostril. That did the trick, this time she started breathing, kicked out her legs and bawled. She sounded like a sheep.
Erika took Eve by her collar and led her to her baby.
Eve sniffed at her calf really hard all over. Then she got all excited and began licking her baby and mooing softly to her.
"Name her Dawn, Sarah!" said Rachel, grinning from her high perch.
I looked at the calf; she was already trying to nurse on her proud mamma. "That's a good idea, Rachel, because Dawn always comes after the Eve."
It was an exciting beginning for Dawn, and a little dangerous, too. I have never seen a calf so eager to be up and about as soon as Dawn was. Nine day old Dawn is now very cute, lively, and chubby with a wonderful appetite. She still sounds like a sheep when she moos.
Farm Fact: There are 10,354,979 cows that give milk in the US. Of these, one fifth are in Wisconsin.