Normally I'm not a fan of home births -- too many things can go wrong. Words like dystocia, hemorrhage, apnea, laceration, and infection come to mind. Some of these complications even showed up on the farm a few months ago when we had a little bull calf, our first. But we stuck with each other, and Whitefoot is now learning his way around the parched hillsides, finding the springs, and growing up with his aunts. Not bad for a calf that wouldn't suck or even swallow the first few days of his life, and a small farmer who didn't know much about four-legged babies.
Because oreo cows are supposed to be pretty independent, capable, and tenacious mothers, we didn't worry when Rihanna went into labor on the coldest wettest day in weeks. Midnight came and went under a steady rain. When she tuckered out I found a rope and pulled her calf onto the mud.
Things got interesting right away. No breathing, no muscle tone, just a wide eye staring back into my headlamp. That's an Apgar of one, maybe two. Not good for a baby, and I thought it must be lousy for a calf as well. Because he didn't respond to stimulation I covered his slimy nose and gave him about ten puffs. Then he began to breathe. Rihanna leaned forward and started licking off what I had missed, and we faded into the dark to let the mothering begin.
When I later made rounds, though, neither had yet stood up from the mud and Whitefoot looked like a wreck again, limp and shivering. Forget the bonding. He needed a warm bath and some time by the fire. And the colostrum that Simmons and Lloyd brought over.
But over the next few days we couldn't get the little guy to eat. Although advice came freely, most of it amounted to squirting milk around his mouth, or wetting a finger for him to suck on. That might have worked if he had any mouth action, but he hadn't even swallowed yet, much less sucked on anything. So I milked and he took it by tube, kicking and screaming and falling on the ground the whole time. All this hands-on was a lot of fun, but I started wondering if the rough birth had permanently lowered his IQ.
In the newborn world it's not uncommon for babies to eat poorly the first couple of days, so I decided the next step was to let him get good and hungry. The BarHBar boyz agreed. I quit milking altogether, backed way off, and watched closely, hoping the milk wouldn't dry up. The headline "Local doctor can't save his first calf" kept running through my head. Two days of fasting came and went. Then he found his way to a teat and discovered the suck/swallow thing. Beautiful. For a long time I couldn't get enough of watching it.