While calving season has been under way for many ranches since January, others like ourselves are just getting started. Our first calf heifer bunch had a due date of March 14th. The second calvers are with this bunch as well and they all have been holding out and slow to start. We have them in a meadow just below the house with easy access to the corrals if one needs to come in for an assist. During the school day, I can watch the bunch from my upstairs windows for any new activity and Husbeast goes out around 11:30 or midnight each night to check on things.
I had just returned from my afternoon jog and had plans to keep enjoying the unusually warm March day. The sun was shining and we were in the mid 60s so I was in shorts and a tank top. I brought Notso and Maynard in for their grain and Weabeast was catching his colt to ride. I decided to keep Maynard in and wanted to ride him bareback while Weebeast rode his colt. I put Notso away and was walking back toward the barn, looking out at the heifers and something nudged at me about checking them.
Husbeast was out in the next meadow dragging. He had just unhooked the drag and was bringing the tractor in as I headed out through the heifers on the quad. At the south end of the field there is a dry gulley and several hidey holes where one could lay down out of sight. As I approached that end of the field, I found a heifer who looked like she was struggling to get up out of her spot. She had started to calve, but because I hadn't seen her from the yard, I wasn't sure how long she had been trying. Husbeast was back in the yard, so I raced up and told him what I had seen and asked him to either verify my worries or put them to bed. We watched from the horse barn as he got the heifer up and guided her closer to the corrals. She didn't want to do much walking and if you've ever been in labor, I'm sure you can understand why. Husbeast let her lay down and we kept watch a while longer.
About an hour into her labor, she hadn't made much progress. This just so happened to be the heifer Weebeast laid claim to so he was on high alert as well. Since we were horseback, Husbeast said "well, go get her in and I'll set the gates."
By this time she had laid down again and we rode in a wide circle to get below her. She sat up and then climbed to her feet while Weebeast and I started to guide her toward the corrals. She kept angling away from them and we stayed at her shoulder to keep her in a straight line toward the fence that would help us flank her toward the corrals. She went down again and Maynard's encouraging sniffs and nudges at her flanks were doing nothing to get her up. I could see the calf breathing but the birth sack was over it's nose and each breath the calf took, sucked the sack into it's nostrils. I could see Husbeast walking across the yard and was growing more anxious about helping the heifer calve.
We were still in the field with no way to restrain the heifer if she wanted to protest my help, but she was docile and to be quite honest, acting like a bit of a quitter. I handed my reins to Weebeast and slid off of Maynard's back behind the heifer. The first thing I did was slide the sack away from the calf's nostrils. Then I took a front leg in each hand and sat back to put pressure on the heifer. She started to push again and I pulled firmly but gently in order to help. My hands slid down the calf's legs and I kept needing to readjust my grip. I managed to get the calf most of the way out and was trying to pull it clear when Husbeast arrived. He took a leg and I kept the other and with the next push from the heifer we were able to get the calf out. I had cleared it's nostrils and mouth and knew it was still alive, but the time to get out of there had arrived. With calf juice on my hands, I took my reins from Weebeast and swung back up on Maynard and we rode away. Husbeast tickled the calf's nose with dry grass one more time and made his retreat as well.
Weebeast and I carried on with our riding plans, while still watching the heifer. She lay for several more minutes before she got up and began to clean her calf off. Within 30 minutes or so of being born, the calf was trying to get up and she was mooing at it while she cleaned it off. By the time an hour passed the calf was hooked up and nursing.
It's always the best news when the heifers calve on their own, but sometimes, a bigger calf, or a heifer that doesn't have a lot of try, means they need a little help and a live calf is always worth taking that time. In the notes on the calving sheet next to 689 in Husbeast's handwriting are the words "Dierde" for the name Weebeast gave her, the calving date and "Ruby field assist."
Here's hoping the rest of them don't need one...