On Monday night, October 22nd, our little black heifer, Xoe, triumphantly delivered - without assistance (but not without a lot of observation!) - her first calf. It took a few days for us to determine the sex of this little one; mama is a good Highland mama, and true to the breed, she was a little antsy each time we got too close. (Navel dipping and towel drying was a very quick endeavor!) We now know, after watching it pee a few times, that we have a heifer!
After what happened with Roxy's calf in August, I'd been checking Xoe frequently. Here in Western Washington, an 80+ day drought took a toll, finally, on our lush green leased pasture, so we brought Roxy, Xoe and Xaralyn home to our place in mid-October, a month earlier than planned. This was a bit of a relief; at least I could easily keep my eye on Xoe and check her every morning and every night.
She had me fooled, many times, but when I drove up after a long day of work on the 22nd and saw Xoe's behavior, I knew this was it. Girlfriend was standing off by herself, watching the road intently, very alert. I quickly changed my clothes and checked on her, and I saw a big, long mucus string, nearly to her hocks. By the time Paul arrived home, she was pacing a circuit from midway down our north fenceline, back across the western cross-fence, to the middle of the outside paddock fence, and back again. She'd stop occasionally to eat a few apple leaves or a couple of bites of hay, but she had that intent but also absent-minded look. By dusk, it was clear she was having contractions. We sat in a dark house with our binoculars, waiting and watching.
After a bit, she stook outside the paddock gate, as if willing it to open. I went outside and opened it, and all three girls entered (Xaralyn kicking up her heels, having never been in this space before). In and out, in and out...it was exhausting to watch Xoe's progress. Finally, when she appeared to be pushing and made her way to the paddock once again, I went out and shut the gate, locking all three girls inside. (It was raining lightly, anyway; they have shelter in the barn.)
At 6:00, I e-mailed my Cattlewomen to let them know I wouldn't be coming to our monthly meeting. Sometime after 7:30, I started checking Xoe with the flashlight every 20 minutes or so. After what seemed like her trying to push out a watermelon (and me wondering if she was trying to deliver a butt and having flashbacks to Roxy's posterior calf), I called Paul out and he arrived in time to see her forebag break. (It's crazy to see before it comes out, because it's really dark, almost purple, and is actually filled with yellow fluid. Freaky when it bursts.) By 8:00, we finally saw first one tiny hoof, and then another, inside the amniotic sac. They were upright, thank God!
By now, I was checking her every 15 minutes. Time went by with no real progress, until finally the end of two toes appeared. I consulted my cattle books, and read that if an hour went by with nothing other than feet, it was time to intervene. It was just after 8:00.
I increased my watch intervals to every 10 minutes, and wondered how quickly any of the Cattlewomen could make it to our house from East Olympia, where the meeting was in progress, if we needed help. Just before 9:00, I saw two forelegs and a pink, moving tongue! Woohoo! I called Paul out and we watched awhile, Xoe pushing with her own mouth open and tongue out, poor girl. We left her for one last 10 minute interval, but I, worrywort, only lasted five.
And when I came out with my flashlight - BABY! The calf was already sitting up and Xoe was ignoring it, busy slurping up birth fluids. I flashed Paul the signal (he'd said earlier, "Three means hooktender needed in the brush," ever the logger!) and he came out. We wondered what to do because Xoe was not interested in attending to her baby, but didn't want us there, either. She couldn't pull herself away from the fluids on the ground, and it was raining and 49 degrees, and her calf was sopping wet.
Finally, we grabbed our supplies, a halter and some grain (a pan for each of the big girls), and Paul tied Xoe's horns and held onto her while I manhandled the baby (who by then was on its feet and sticking close to mama...I didn't really want to get kicked in the head!). I ended up having to pull the calf backwards by its hips and push it to the ground to dry it off (not really, because all that hair is super wet and soapy-feeling, but I at least got one towel-full and dried the ears and head well), and I dipped the umbilical cord in iodine for protection.
The next morning, we both independently checked on Xoe and her calf, and both found them curled up in the small barn stall, baby lying behind mama, fully protected from the entrance. Good Xoe!
The calf was a joy to watch that evening when we arrived home from work, and like our previous calves, she was bouncing and running and kicking up a storm by her second day outside the womb. She's chocolate brown in color with black feet, nose, eyelids and tail switch, and her undercoat has black in it, too. After consulting my favorite Highland coat color article, I was able to easily confirm that this little one will grow up to be black like Xoe (and like her dad's dad).
(Interestingly, Xoe "cleaned", or delivered her placenta, some time later the first day, because she left it intact next to our fence, rather than eating it as Sheila and Bridgit had done. We'll compost it.)
We still haven't named the calf; not knowing the sex for a few days didn't help that endeavor! Hopefully she'll have a name by the end of tomorrow. Until then, we'll keep calling her Baby!
Baby, day 1. (Xoe has a really nice udder, by the way!)
Look at that cute little tail switch! You can see the black in her undercoat, too.
Mother and daughter.