We had the trip planned since we sat down in June and looked at the short eight weeks of summer. The vacation would be short this year, just 2 1/2 days. We wouldn't be far, just 2 hours down the road. Doesn't seem like much of a vacation but we're lucky to have a beautiful national park near by. With cows and chickens it's hard to leave for any length of time because we need a babysitter. My friend was nice enough to do that for us, so we could go at all. She was worried though. Smokey was due to calve any day. She is not a farmer. She is my friend with good sense and I trust her, but she is not a farmer. Maybe I was a bit worried too. I prepared her the best I could, but you can explain 30 years of experience in a conversation or on a list.
Friend: How will I know if she calved?
Me: You probably won't unless you look for the calf. She'll be acting different. More alert.
Friend: Compared to what? I don't see her act normal.
Me: That's why you probably won't know unless you see the calf.
Friend: How do I know if the calf is ok?
Me: The mom will be ok. If she's upset something is wrong.
Friend: How will I know if the calf isn't ok?
Me: It will be dead.
No pressure. There are a gazillion things that could go wrong that could cost the life of the calf and the cow. Realistically, Smokey should calve without any trouble at all. She's done it before, the bull wasn't big, so the calf shouldn't be....But still, that's why we would only be gone from Wednesday morning until Friday afternoon. Even after our conversation my friend still agreed to babysit for me (she is an awesome friend) with a list of emergency phone numbers including those of my mom (my mom is good for all kinds of births).
The nature of herd animals and prey animals is to hide their young. Smokey hid hers well. So well that my friend had no idea she calved. Without seeing her calve with my own eyes, I can't say for sure when she did, but based on the hardness of the calf's hooves, the dryness of the umbilical cord and the calf's sturdiness on her feet, I say she calved Thursday, perhaps even late Wednesday. While preparing to leave Wednesday morning I did a final round checking on our critters. Smokey looked to be in early labour. It didnt' make sense to stay as she may not calve for days even if she was in early labour, but I was surprised to hear my friend say she hadn't calved.
When we got home Friday afternoon I went straight out to the field. Shady was with me of course. Smokey was grazing and looked a bit thinner. Now Smokey does not like Shady, even when Shady isn't being a pest. Normally though, if Shady keeps her distance and runs through the grass looking for pheasants, Smokey ignores her. This time Shady went into the woods and Smokey immediately followed. So I went in the woods and watched and waited. Smokey stared down the path under a fallen tree, so I walked that way. Smokey followed. Then Shady burst with excitement, wagging her whole body at something hidden in the tall grass that grows under the trees. That's when I knew for sure. Smokey started calling to her calf in that way momma cows do. A way I can't describe or mimic but is unmistakable and reserved only for talking to their babies. I nearly stepped on her to find her even though Shady had pointed her out. Hidden between trees and fallen branches, on a bed of tall grass, was a pretty little girl. She didn't say a word until I touched her. I got her to her feet, not knowing if she had nursed yet, hoping she had or I'd have my hands full. Once up it was clear she had. On practiced legs with plenty of energy she followed her momma out of the thicket. If she hadn't nursed she wouldn't have had the energy to be able to stand. If a calf doesn't nurse in the first hour or less of life, they are in trouble. This little (I use the word relatively, as she's about 100 lbs) heifer though was perfectly fine. The herd, including the horse, gathered protectively around the new addition and I took that as my cue to leave.