Humans often get worried when babies aren't born when they think they should be born, and sometimes there are some reasons for concern. However, often, the time simply isn't right for the calf and the cow. We try to let nature take it's course here at the farm. That is why we prefer our cows to be pasture bred rather than artificially inseminated. We also prefer to not use any types of hormones or antibiotics unless they are deemed absolutely necessary. Inducing a cow that is "late" is not something that we do. Don't get me wrong. If there were some type of life threatening condition that warranted such, then we would do what was necessary but too often we as humans try to take matters into our own hands rather than just letting nature take it's course.
One issue that comes up when a cow does not calve on schedule is the question of if the cow is actually bred. This is a valid question and for beginners who aren't able to palpate or "bump" a calf to determine if the cow is bred, it is always wise to have your local Vet come out and verify that the cow is indeed bred. This is especially important if you don't have a bull that runs with your herd. A cow that was simply exposed to a bull once could very well not be bred. If your cow has been in with a bull for many months, it is likely that she is bred, but sometimes there are other issues that cause a cow to not conceive. Making sure the cows is indeed bred is important.
In our case, we have a cow that was put in with the bull when she cycled and her due date was set for March 5th. Her due date arrived and I told my husband that she didn't look anywhere near ready to calve. I decided then that she was either late or hadn't bred on that initial cycle when she was serviced by the bull. We waited and counted the days, watching her carefully for signs of change. Exactly 21 days from what we thought was her initial due date, she gave birth to a healthy bull calf without any assistance from the farmers. We know now that she was indeed bred on her second cycle after she was put in with the bull.
We welcome Princess' healthy calf to the world on this cold, windy, snowy, spring day.
Good job Momma Cow!
I frequently get requests to mentor folks regarding the care and keeping of a family cow. In addition, individuals often want to know if I have any advice for them on running a cow share program. While I greatly enjoy sharing information with others, you can see by the frequency (or should I say infrequency) of my blog post that I am no longer able to spend a lot of time doing that. There was a time when I spent hours responding to questions and helping people as a moderator on a fabulous forum called Keeping a Family Cow. This forum is a fantastic resource and I highly recommend your starting with it, as most of your questions will be answered simply by reading past posts.
While the forum will give you an excellent starting point and some quick answers to commonly asked questions, I also highly recommend that you buy the book Keeping a Family Cow. The author, Joann S. Grohman, has written the best book on the subject to date. Originally written in the 1970's the book has been updated and remains relevant to the small farmer and homesteader of today. Joann continues to milk her own cow and is currently in her 80's.
To truly understand the nature of cattle one should take the time to read articles and information shared by Dr. Temple Grandin. Specifically read the chapter on bovines in her book Animals Make Us Human.
If you are able to find a small farm or willing farmer who has the time to share hands on experience with you by meeting with you privately or offering classes for a fee, take advantage of those types of training experiences. Please don't begrudge the farmer for charging for their hard earned knowledge. In addition to the worth of their knowledge and experience, farms who offer classes must be insured to cover liabilities and that expense can be quite costly.
If interested in share programs or selling raw milk, the best resource is the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense organization. This organization will provide legal guidance as well as training with occasional online courses.
In closing, let me just briefly say that I always encourage people to begin this journey only if they have a burning passion for owning and keeping dairy cattle. Keeping a family cow is not just a job, but it is a lifestyle.