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Walking the Talk part II. What WAS Wrong with Jane?

April 19, 2018

Dickie and Jane

I had high hopes for a long life for Jane when she was born. But sadly, that wasn’t to be.  A family cow is a special part of a farmstead.  I really, I mean really, like cows.  But a milk cow, you spend so much time with them you get real attached.  You might say I love my milk cows, but I like my beef cows.  The beef cows are tame like a milk cow, but they are so much easier to husband, and are on autopilot most of the time, you just don’t have the opportunity to bond in the same way.

The cute calf, Dickie, giving the side eye in the photo above was the beginning of the end for Jane.  At age three, Jane was due with her second calf, she had calved easily as a heifer, textbook actually, so I really had no worries other than the million worries I always have when my milk cow is about to calve.  You would think it would be old hat, but dairy cows tend to make their owners quite anxious at birthing time.  I am no exception, and I have to admit, I have never been able to quash those fears despite all the calvings I have seen, and assisted with.  So much can go right, and so much can go terribly wrong.

On a typical rainy June afternoon, Jane was showing signs of labor, so I promptly put her in to keep her dry, and to make it easy to check on her.  Otherwise she would have headed for the back forty for some seclusion.  She labored on, progressing in a normal way.  Front feet presented properly, and soon the nose, by then we were all relieved, and resorted to taking photos.  Jane was a bottle baby, so she was not bothered by our presence and documentation in the least, we were her herd.  She stalled for a bit, and then laid down, and labored some more and then finally pushed Dickie out.  I noticed she had a funny look on her face, but if you’ve had a baby, you know what I mean.  Normally, unless it was a very long labor, the calf slips out, and the cow immediately jumps up and starts licking her calf off to stimulate it to get up.  But Jane didn’t get up.

My first thought was Milk Fever, but her age, and mineral intake didn’t really match with that diagnosis.  Her labor had progressed normally so I didn’t think she was tired, but you just go through all the possibilities in your mind when you see a down cow.  She was just laying there blinking and biding her time.  I decided that the good cop, bad cop MO was in order.  I went to the house to get Hangdog, figuring she would likely respond to a “stranger” in the barn.  If that didn’t work, next thing was to get the dogs, that almost always will get a cow up when their newborn is “threatened.”  I pulled on Jane’s lead, and my husband jumped at her, hollering, from behind and it worked.  She was a little unsteady at first but slowly got herself up.  Her temperature was normal, so I knew it wasn’t Milk Fever which presents with a low temperature, but I couldn’t shake the look on her face.  But I had to milk, get the calf to nurse, and just make sure everyone was safe for the night.  I set the milk bucket down, and to my surprise Jane guzzled two gallons of colostrum. That was the first time I had ever seen a cow do that, I guess she thought she needed a boost.

Things progressed normally as the weeks went on, but I noticed that Jane seemed lopsided if viewed from the front.  She looked as if she was heavy with calf on the right side, and practically flat on the left, the problem with that was she wasn’t pregnant.  A full right side is normal at the end of gestation, just because the rumen on the left takes up so much space there is no place for a big calf to be but on the right side.  She seemed fine, but I mentioned it to the vet, and he kind of waved me off, “Oh, she’s got a mature figure, they always look like that.”  Okay, but it just kept bugging me.

Jane and Reese

The next pregnancy (her third) seemed okay, labor started normally but progressed to a hind feet first presentation.  Not ideal, but okay if the cow is able to push out the calf before the umbilical breaks you’re okay, otherwise the calf takes a breath and breathes in amniotic fluid.  I went to get the OB chains, and by the time I got back she had delivered another whopping big bull calf.  And she was still lopsided.  It bugged me, but I had no idea how all this was interconnected.

The fourth pregnancy went along well, and about a week before her due date Jane headed to the back forty one morning.  (Not really, just the most secluded corner of the 10 acre field she was in.) By afternoon I noticed she hadn’t come down for water, so I went looking.  My mind awash with those fears, and feeling of stupidity for not getting the signal when she headed off to the corner.  She had another week to go, she had always calved on her due date. There she was in the corner next to an old fir stump with huckleberry bushes growing on top.  Her favorite place to rub, that stump under the shade of an alder.  But, she had bit of bloody mucus, so I knew then I should have been paying more attention, she was in labor and it was stalled.  I called the vet and brought her down to the barn, a slow and painful walk for her I imagine.  When the vet arrived, he immediately set to work, and sure enough there was the calf presented correctly, but just right there in the birth canal…hmmm.  The calf was a stillborn bull.  The vet’s normal course of action after pulling a calf is to check for another calf to maybe help explain why labor didn’t progress normally.  He fished around and found another calf, and at this point we all figured it was dead too, but as the calf came out we all thought we saw a flutter of an eyelash.  You always hold out hope for a live calf.  Hooray, he was alive! We named him Reese.

At this point I brought up the lopsidedness as the vet was here, and could see what I was talking about.  He agreed it wasn’t normal and did an exam and found things awry inside from a partial prepubic tendon rupture.  That explained her not rising after the birth of her second calf, and as the vet explained to me in detail, it also caused problems with her uterus being obliterated by her full rumen (if you can imagine a bale of hay inside a cow, that is how much forage material there is in a cow’s rumen at any given time) at term.  Basically, due to organs being out of place, her uterus couldn’t help get the calf in a birthing position before labor was to begin.  Jane’s future looked bleak.  Any calf she would have in the future most likely would have to be pulled.  The question was, breed her for a fifth time?

After this ordeal, regrouping was in order. Now in hindsight this is where the selfishness started to creep in, I was on a mission.  Regrets came later.  The vet thought maybe one more calf would be okay, he wanted me to be aware of all the possible bad scenarios that could arise from breeding Jane again.  But he thought Jane would weather it okay, but the chance of a live calf was iffy.  So began my quest for a bottle calf to raise.  Holy crap!  The feelers I put out brought in a calf that wasn’t even born yet to the tune of $3K.  I know I like Guernseys but that is just too much to pay for a day old calf in my opinion.  Too many unknowns, and for that price I could get a proven bred cow.  Too. Much. Money.  I found others in my price range but they sold too quickly.  So I kept looking, and finally decided to go the sexed semen route with at least a 90% chance of a heifer.  The problem there was my AI guy adamantly refused to use sexed semen on a cow.  Only heifers.  So I found another one that actually would procure and store the semen for me.  Boom.

I had decided to give Jane a long rest before re-breeding so I could get her back on to spring calving. I had the semen purchased and was ready to go.  I called the AI guy to give him a heads up, and made arrangements to call at the first sign of heat.  He was coming from downriver quite a ways and needed to make plans asap the day he was to come to breed Jane. Just like clockwork, she came in heat, I made the call and began fretting about his long drive.  As it turned out, he had been to my farm many years before with a mutual friend who neither of us had seen in a decade or more.  He was about to give up on the drive here and then he saw familiar landmarks, and all was good.  She was at the perfect stage, and he was a master.  Three weeks later, there was no signs of heat from Jane…thank you Jason!  So much for sexed semen only working on heifers.  I should note here while we are in the old wives tale territory, Guernseys have a reputation for being hard to settle, and that has never been a problem here either with AI or live cover, with any of my Guernseys.

So with Jane pregnant with possibly a heifer, I was even more worried when I found out Jane’s due date was smack dab in the middle of my vet’s two week vacation.  And her being so heavy on one side was telling on her physically. She had trouble going down hills without slipping, and her right hip was starting to jut out more.  Then her ankle on the right side started to give out on her.  If you can imagine carrying two of your kids on one hip, that was about what Jane had to deal with.  Guilt was starting to creep in.  What have I done to this gentle giant in my quest to get a daughter out of her?

Next: part III – Jane’s final lactation and winter off, and how I came to terms with the ending.


15 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2018 6:01 am

    Gosh this is hard. I’m so sorry you all went through this. I’m almost dreading the end of the story, kind of like when I read Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (she was the only person in history he admired) where I tore through the book until I got to the part where she was captured and imprisoned by the British and because I knew what happened, of course, I couldn’t bring myself to read the rest of the book for months after…..

    I’m curious though, because you are so knowledgable about what you’re doing, what would you have done with her if you had decided not to breed her for a fourth?

    Peace- Paula

    On Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 6:14 AM, Throwback at Trapper Creek wrote:

    > matronofhusbandry posted: ” I had high hopes for a long life for Jane when > she was born. But sadly, that wasn’t to be. A family cow is a special part > of a farmstead. I really, I mean really, like cows. But a milk cow, you > spend so much time with them you get real attached. Y” >

  2. April 19, 2018 6:42 am

    I’ve had 3 babies…so I am feeling this. I also am now struggling with knee and hip problems….so I am feeling this with pain.

  3. cathylee permalink
    April 19, 2018 6:55 am

    I don’t remember when I found your blog but I long ago went backwards from my beginning to start at the beginning of your blog. I’ve missed your time away from the blog. I await the next in Jane’s story anxiously.

  4. elaine permalink
    April 19, 2018 6:58 am


  5. April 19, 2018 7:17 am

    I’m on pins and needles here!!!
    You sure know how to tell a story. I’m going to renew my request that you seriously consider publishing a book (or ten!)

  6. April 19, 2018 7:27 am


    Like your other loving followers, I know the end of this story is near. I know it already happened. I grieve anyway. How did I get so attached? It does not matter, I just did. I am so glad you are writing again, it helps to read your thoughts and it feels so much more personal. Thank you for that. I will miss Jane, but I understand. I will always follow your writing because it matters to me.

  7. April 19, 2018 9:35 am

    It is lovely to hear about your life again!
    I really missed your news.
    I too understand re Jane. Keeping livestock can lead to difficult decisions.
    Wishing you all the best and hope that you will be around more.
    Thank you.

  8. Bev permalink
    April 19, 2018 10:50 am

    Thank you for telling Jane’s story. Had wondered what had happened. You took loving care of her. She provided well for your family. Raising and growing what we eat. Years back I mentioned to you that we had people ask us why we did this. At a Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey was one we had raised. You have shared through the years what all the benefits we get raising our food. Our answer to family and friends. We did it for the same reasons as you do and also answered that we did it with reverence! Yes, we do love and care for our animals.
    Know you have a busy life. Have you considered maybe blogging once a week? Check out Homestead Hill Farm.

  9. Robyn permalink
    April 19, 2018 4:11 pm

    I am tearful as I read this. Jane was a beauty. And you treated her with such respect and love. Yes, it is sad. But you are a farmer and you raise animals the way you do so you can eat highly nutritious food. For all of us- this is the cycle- even with vegetables. Thankyou for this.

  10. Ali Stewart permalink
    April 19, 2018 11:26 pm

    I’m so glad you’re writing again. I have truly missed your blog. I new the day would come for Jane. If I remember correctly, you said the last time, she wouldn’t be able to be bred again. Unfortunately a half ton animal is too big a mouth to feed to keep for companionship. I admire that you are able to make the hard decisions you do, and that you’re not impractical. farming is not for the faint of heart. I tend to get attached and keep things I shouldn’t. Gods cure for that was giving me 7 bucks this year and zero does!! With a heavy heart, I look forward to the rest of Jane’s story.

  11. April 20, 2018 5:48 pm

    I’ve followed Jane’s story from the beginning. I remember you suggesting there could be problems with her, as a milking cow, after her first pregnancy. You hoped she would come good though, over the years. You believed she deserved that much. We know what’s coming though. Not all of God’s creatures can make it all the way. Sometimes it’s enough, to have let them live – to know the time spent together, was worthwhile. And then you have to make the choice, of when to set things in order, again.

  12. April 22, 2018 1:17 am

    I’m so pleased you’re back. I’ve been thinking about you and wondering. It’s such a sad story you’re telling, I’m guessing I know the end. :- ( I hope you’re okay. xx

  13. April 27, 2018 3:51 pm

    Even knowing how all of this came about from our many lengthy emails over the years, it breaks my heart all over again knowing how much you and she went through. Hugs

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