Chapter 9: Beware of Bonny Bouncing 'babies'

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"It's a boy... a great big beautiful boy."

"... and he's alive?" I can't believe it. Only shallow little puffs, but the miracle continues, after that long and difficult birth. My heart is pounding so hard I can barely breathe either. As if from someplace far away, I'm aware that my mouth is as dry as my palms are sweaty. But now I feel a rush of relief as strong as if I'd given birth myself. He IS a beautiful boy.

With the drama over at last and another miracle of life witnessed, Kanute's practical nature re-emerged. "What do you reckon he'd weigh? He's a big 'un, alright."

Sven pondered for a moment, squinting his eyes as he carefully appraised the new baby. He held his chin and wagged it a few times. "Ahh, dunno... hard to say, but wouldn't be surprised if he was over 60kg-maybe even 65?"

The good average birth weight of a calf is between 18-22+ kgs (40-50 lbs.) for smaller breeds like Jerseys, and 32-45kgs (70-100 lbs.) Friesians, Holsteins, and some larger Guernseys. Definitely 'bouncing baby boys and girls'. And bounce they do, in the shortest imaginable time from being a weak, wet and bedraggled newborn.

This was the first time we had encountered one of these 'giant' babies. His birth was also complicated by other factors we were blissfully unaware of before this most arduous delivery. His distressed mother, our deeply admired and appreciated No. 135 had pushed and pushed, to no avail. The contractions continued-on and on, but she was getting visibly weaker now.

"Poor girl," I murmur, reliving the distress we all felt. She was SO big herself-and yet reduced to a quivering heap by her fierce ordeal. Kanute's mouth tightens and he narrows his eyes. He too, clearly remembers our confusion and fear. What was going wrong with this special girl-one of our champion milkers? We were at a loss to know the best, most immediate action. Do nothing and let Nature take its course? Or try to help to save both mother and child? It was a dilemma we weren't equipped to face.

"I'm going to ring Sven. He'll know what to do for the best." There was such relief in taking action of any kind, rather than standing helplessly by. In typical Sven-type response, he insisted on coming to our place immediately. "Now don't you worry about it. I'll show you what to do." As our eyes met, we realised how tightly we'd been holding our breath as we each blew a loud and lengthy sigh of relief. Sven's lifetime of dairying experience quickly showed him we were all facing the worst scenario. A thorough check of the mother-to-be confirmed it. The baby was presenting back to front and, to complicate matters even further, upside down as well.

This is SO serious. In this position, it's far too easy for the tail to fold back over the spine, making an already difficult birth frighteningly worse. Permanent damage to the calf's walking ability is a strong possibility. Even its life is threatened. Upside down means that IF the baby can come out when its front legs are folded upwards towards the mother's spine, there is a strong chance of them getting hooked on her hips or pelvis. The umbilical cord is suddenly frighteningly vulnerable, at risk of becoming hooked, flattened or squashed, cutting off the baby's air. It will suffocate unless its head emerges quickly, and its sac breaks.

And there's more. Not only the baby, but the mother too is at serious risk-of calving paralysis due to the spinal pressure. IF she doesn't manage to get up on her feet again within hours preferably, she is also in jeopardy of losing her life.

In a perfect world, the baby emerges nose first with legs nicely aligned under its body, front legs forward, below its chin. The mother's dilation can keep pace in the widening process until the calf's shoulders are out, and the rest of its body usually slithers out seal-like, with just a couple of helpful heaves. This day and this birth were far from that perfect image.

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