Yesterday started off ordinary enough. Breakfast. School. Lunch. Dr. Appointment. Then it got good. Really, really good.
Since we were already in East Lansing, we decided to go to the butterfly garden on campus. We love it there. I find myself, immersed in the life cycle. I search out eggs, caterpillars, chrysalis and delight over the flitting butterflies. I can stare a long time at any one thing, soaking it up and learning from it. My kids can too.
As we left the butterfly garden we decided to go the back way so we could see the pond. As we walked around, we came upon a compass rose. We had talked about them last week in the boy's Map Skills book, so we took a moment to figure out all the directions. Then we headed East to the pond. It did not disappoint. Frogs poked their heads through the lily pads, a turtle was soaking in the sun and tadpoles skittered around the bottom. We circled our way around the pond, looking for frogs, who were cleverly camouflaged. We saw strings of eggs and yet again I marveled at the cycle of life. Especially for the butterfly and the frog. So unique. So complex. A miracle.
I had brought along a book with me to the doctors office, I was nearing the end and was longing for a moment to finished it. I thought about the park where the kids could play as I read nearby. Then I thought about the horse farm on campus. I suspected there may be some foal's. The kids could watch the horses for a bit, while I read, even if it would only be a chapter or two.
On our way we remember the dairy cows and decided to check the calves out as well. The dairy farm was closer so we headed there. First the milking parlour and to our delight, the cows were milking. The kids asked question after question about the milking process. Using the signs around and some previous knowledge, I answered their questions. We sat there 20-30 minutes watching the cows being milked, cleaned and sent out of the parlour.
Next stop, the pregnant mamas. We walked down the length of the barn, reading their due dates. Then they discovered their ear tags. We talked about the numbers and then read off all their names. Back up and down the barn. All sorts of names. I am so very thankful we did not rush through, with a seen that mentality. If we had, we would have missed it. "Mom, what's that? It looks like she's bleeding." The heifer was in labor. She was indeed bleeding as her mucus lining had ruptured. We stood there watching her amazed. "Here comes a contraction." We watched as her body tightened and did it's work. It was obvious she was in labor. "Mom can we stay and watch?" "Sure, I don't know how long it will take but we can stay." So stay we did.
The workers came along and we asked how long the process may take. He said anywhere from an hour to four hours. They moved her to a birthing stall, where she could roam around. They laid out fresh straw. As she adjusted to the new location, we decided to go check out the calves. They were a few barns over and eating their dinner. One named Spice did not shy away and allowed us to touch her nose. The kids laughed as he tried to taste their sweatshirts. Again we read all the names. Then headed back to check on the laboring mama. One thing was for sure, my kids did not want to miss the birth.
We checked in on her and found that she hadn't progressed any. One of the residents checked her and the baby was in the proper position but it would probably be awhile yet. I presented the kids with their choices. 1. Stay and watch. Even though it looked like it would an hour or more. 2. Go to McDonald's, eat dinner and then come back. They went for option 2. We ate and they played. Yet they were slightly concerned that we should not be too long. I set my watch and as soon as it went off, shoes were on and kids were ready to leave. I don't think we have ever been ready to leave McDonald's Playland so fast.
When we returned it was obvious she had progressed but not too much. We didn't miss it. The kids were relieved. Bob, the manager had placed bales of straw for the kids and I to sit on as we waited. So that's what we did. We waited. She was progressing and with each push you could see her bag of waters with hoofs sticking out. After a few good pushes she would stand up and take a break. Sometimes for just a minute or so, other times for long stretches. I didn't blame her, I remembered wanting to change positions and take breaks after I had made progress. Then she would lay back down and let her body do its work. Soon there was two hoofs. With each contraction, her eyes would bulge, her tail would lift and her body would push with all she had. The staff would check every so often on her progress. On one such check the boy announced that another cow was ready for the birthing stall, and she was. The kids helped lay out the straw and maneuvered the gates to help bring her down. They were completely absorbed in the process and the staff was great to us. Telling us about the whys and the hows, answering our questions and allowing us to help where we could.
As we waited I read and finished my book. The kids patrolled the barn we were in, checking on the cows. They moved th bales of straw around so they could hide out in a little fort. I was amazed at their patience. They were most definitely committed to seeing the birth. I was also amazed at their maturity about the matter. They weren't grossed out. Not like the group of inner city high schoolers that had stopped by early in the labor process. They jumped about, pointing and "Ew"ing, with Oh mans, and more "Ews". Not my kids, they watched in fascination and wonder.
Then the time came. She was actively pushing and I could tell she was close. I stood up and leaned against one of the fences to get a better look. I called the kids over and propped them up. Moments later we saw the hoofs out front, like superman. Next, the tip of the nose. Then the head. Once the head was out, it was one more push and she was out. The workers came just as she was giving her final push. They helped get the final hoof out and announced, "It's a heifer." A girl. Little girl smiled at the pronouncement. The time was 8:18pm. Next, they tickled her nose with a piece of straw to get her to sneeze. Then they loaded her up on a sled. Just like you would take sledding on a winter's day. And moved her down to the warming house.
Currently, there is a disease at the farm that is spread from mother to calf. For this reason, they are separated at birth. The mother didn't seem to mind, one bit. But I found it sad.
We followed the workers and watched the process of drying the calf, cleaning the umbilical cord, administering the antibiotic and placing her in the warming house. They talked as they worked, telling us what they were doing and why. We asked how they named the cows and they said they use the first letter of the mother's name and come up with something. They use baby books and try not to duplicate a name. Usually a staff member will do that the next day, when she would be tagged.
Then the workers went off to thaw the colostrum and record the birth.
At this time the other heifer was looking close to birth and the kids wanted to stay longer to watch that one too. It was nearing bedtime but they were wide awake and completely enthralled with the cows so I consented. Bob moved the bales of straw closer to the birthing heifer. They moved the new momma back to her stall and she made not a sound in the direction of her baby. We sat back down and once again waited. The second cow seemed more distressed about the little cow being away. As the worker later told us, she thought this baby was hers. She would look over to the warming house. Then she would lay down, push and stand back up, like where is my baby. She would look around the stall and then finally lay back down and push some more. She was definitely distracted and this slowed down her progress. Then Liz came, another worker on the farm. She wasn't on duty that night but she is a sucker for births so she stuck around. She was awesome. She took the kids under her wing and told them all about the birth process. Another worker Matt came to check on Mama #2 (Ellie) and ended up breaking her water. He attempted to pull the calf out but decided he would give her a little while longer to push it out on her own.
Then it was time to feed little girl calf. Liz asked the kids if they wanted to name her and of course they did. Her mom's name was Mame, so it would have to be a M name. While she got the colostrum around, we thought about a good name. Millie, Molly and then we found one we all agreed on, Miley. After Miley Cyrus, you know Hannah Montana. Both Bob and Liz did not think they had a Miley and Liz boasted that it was a perfect name for this cow. Liz brought out the smallest gloves she could find and the kids put them on. Then they tried to get Miley to stand. She wobbled about, still very wet, and fell time and time again. So Liz had her kneel while they gave her, her first bottle. The boy helped, then little girl. The kids, giggled, so excited. Then they went to climbing on the bales of hay and straw. They found the best look out to keep an eye on mama number 2 (Ellie). She was now actively pushing and was ready to have the baby. Liz kept watch from the warming house across the aisle as I watched from the bale of straw. A hoof, Then two. This time the bag of water had already broken so there were two perfect little hoofs sticking out. A few more pushes and the head was out. Now, the Ellie had made her final resting spot right next to the bars of the stall and the calf had hooves sticking through the bars and then it's head. Liz, came over to help free it from the bars. Once she did that it was another push and the baby was out. This one, a boy! 10:15pm
I grabbed the sled and Liz went in to tickle the nose and place the baby on the sled. Ellie was a more in tune mom. She began licking her baby clean. Liz let her for a minute then placed the boy on the sled and took him across the aisle to the warming house. Where he too was towel dried and his umbilical cord was cleaned. My boy readied the gates to bring Ellie back to her stall. We named the boy Espn, after my sons middle name. Liz liked that name too. However, it would be unofficial as they do not name the boys. They will be sold.
With Ellie back in her stall and Miley and Espn in their warming houses we set to our good nights.
But first Liz called the kids into the office to watch her write Miley's name in the record book. It was official. A perfect ending to a amazing evening. It's not every day you get to be a part of something like that. And we are so very grateful to the staff for embracing us and letting us come along for the journey.
If ever you find yourself at the MSU Dairy Farm and a friendly cow named Miley, wanders over, tell her hi for us. We will never forget her or the night we learned about cows and the cycle of life. Ever.