Losing That First Calf

JM
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The time is 3:25 A.M., January 28th. Roughly an hour after we started pulling a calf. Now, mind you, this is the first time I have ever had to pull one, and let it be noted that this is a very sad documentation of my life on the farm.

As of 1:05 A.M. this morning, I had noticed a heifer starting to calve. How she was positioned, I had a difficult time seeing what exactly was going on, but I could make out what I had thought to be two hooves out, but one looked as if it was the complete opposite way from the other(one was down, one was up, it appeared). Even though this doesn't make a lick of sense, that's what I had figured and waited for her to push some more and make progress. I go to check the other pen, and see one of my bosses old cows had calved a nice sized bull calf. I drag him into a makeshift pen made up of three panels in the corner, and make way way back to the barn pen and observe the heifer. 

It is now 1:15 A.M.. she has made her way to the hole in the side of the shed that we use to observe calving cows and heifers. I now see what I thought was two hooves is actually a hoof down as it should be, as well as the nose poked out and it's tongue hanging down as low as the hoof. Being a good hired hand, I do what I was told to do and wait and check on her every 15 minutes to watch for progress, however I do not leave the side of the shed. 

It is now 1:30 A.M. and I start feeling anxious because I know something isn't right; the other hoof needs to be out as well, or it could be stuck in the pelvis of the heifer(mind you, this is their first calf so their body has not yet adjusted to giving birth to a calf), so I call my boss and explain to him what is happening. He feels that she may need more time, so to watch her for another half hour for any progress, and to call him back if there wasn't any. I go back to the shed to watch again.

Time crawls by slower at this point than I have ever experienced. I believe I will never experience anything slower time wise than the following half hour. Each minute feels like an hour has passed as you anxiously wait and watch for any sign of progress whatsoever. The entire time, the heifer is bellowing out heavy and powerful shouts of immense pain.

Think of this parents, as if you are watching a life threatening surgery of your child that you are gifted the power of the hand of God, with the restriction of timing being a factor. The longest half hour of my life to this point and time has passed. I call my boss back.

I tell him that I have not left the shed peep hole for the entirety of the half hour he told me to wait, and tell him that she needs the calf pulled, so he has me kick the three heifers in the barn out, leave the doors open, and open the head catch to prepare for the heifer's first and possibly last battle of a lifetime. He gets dressed and leaves his house. The time is 2:15 A.M.

As my boss arrives around 2:25, he gathers the chain as well as two hooks. We wrap two loops around the legs of the calf in specific spots to allow for the best leverage in terms of pulling. We move the calving heifer out from the shed and into the barn. We make her go in a loop on the inside so we can push her into the head catch to position her properly to pull. She gets locked in, and the work now begins. The time is 2:35 A.M.

My boss realizes that the other front leg isn't out, so he reaches into the heifer to find out where the calf's leg is. It didn't enter the pelvis properly, causing it to hit the bone and slide downward, making it so the heifer couldn't give birth naturally. As my boss attempts to readjust the calf, the heifer let's out a bellow longer than I have ever heard, and it hit me like a blast to the chest. The feeling of her pain resonates in my entire body and fills me with a very heavy sadness, as you know this is going to be hell. Right when my boss starts to make the slightest progress the heifer rolls onto her side, and all we can do is get to work pulling.

The hook and chain we use to pull calves aren't heavy or bulky, but they are incredibly strong. As I sat down to pull while my boss starts to make room for the calf, the handle sits in the palm of my right hand, ice cold. My boss signals me to pull as hard as I can, and the handle digs into your palm like a set of spikes being stabbed into them. I continue pulling, digging my feed into the hard packed straw. I give it my all for a full 10 minutes, and the calf slides out. The time is 2:55 A.M.

As the calf lays there motionless, my boss goes to work trying to revive what little bit of life may be left in this little creature. As he does his thing, I have a wave of nothing but what I can describe as the weight of the world crashing down onto my chest. The sadness sets in, as a few tears roll down my cheek. I know already that all hope is lost. The calf is dead, and there isn't a thing we can do about it. My bosses have claimed that there hasn't been someone who has cried after they have lost a calf after pulling it, so in a year of many firsts, chalk this one up too, for me. I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried after I worked my ass off to try and save this calf. I have spent the last 9 months doctoring, feeding, breaking ice for water, and moving these heifers and cows on a daily basis. I don't care what anyone says, these cows and calves are my children, and I love them all very much. There aren't any words that can describe the sadness I feel right now, knowing that I was gifted with the power of having the hand of God, being the ultimate determining factor of whether the calf lives or dies. I had worked my ass off pulling as hard as I could for a solid ten minutes to save this little creature, and come to find out, we had failed. We failed the calf, we failed the heifer. I failed them both.

The world is a very harsh place, but it also has very high points as well. Without the highs, the lows mean nothing. Without the rock bottom lows, the highs mean nothing; yin and yang. People want to say that we don't care for our cows and that we mistreat them, but what they don't know is that at this very moment as I write this, there is a 22 year old 250 pound man who is very sleep deprived who is crying over the fact that his efforts in trying to save this calf failed. I did my absolute best, and I failed it. So, before someone tries to claim animal cruelty, get them to come down to the farm on a cool, early, starry morning in eastern Montana, and get them to go through the hell I just did and try and claim animal cruelty then. I'm sorry I failed you little calf. Here's to tomorrow where the day may be brighter than the day before.

It is 4:05 A.M. on January the 28th, and it's time for me to make another round, and to hopefully welcome another newborn calf into the world.
 

Born and raised in Helena. Johnathan has been separated at least one generation from farm work, if not more. Prior to moving to Hysham in April of 2016, he hasn't had any agricultural experience whatsoever. So, with that being said, he has numerous stories written about what life is like with these unique circumstances.