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A little Black Joy on Valentine's Day

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

On the cloudy morning of February 6th, I had gone out to the back pasture to check on what we call the Back Gammon Mills Herd. I was going there with the intent to find a new baby calf. The evening before when my Dad came in from feeding, he mentioned that he was betting that a certain cow would have her calf overnight. Sure enough, on the hillside, I spotted the mamma cow and the new calf. The calf was grayish brown and had the most pinkish nude colored nose. I checked for the gender, by feeling under the calf's soft warm belly. It was a little bull calf. Mamma cow was right there telling me with her bawling noises that this was her new calf. They like to let you know that the calf is theirs. All of the cows here are mostly gentle. If the approach to the calf is made in a mindful way, they will let you give the new calf some rubs and a quick assessment. Despite the mamma cows' willingness, if the calf is not already lying down in a sleepy state, then that first quick contact can pose a little bit more of a challenge. When this happens, I just give it a visual look over to make sure all is well. I always like to look the mamma cow in the eye to let her know I connect with her. So she knows I understand what a good job she did having the calf. Finding a new born calf ranks very high on the "likes" of living on a cattle farm. Therefore, I was happy, excited and already thinking of what name seemed suiting for the new calf.

I had started walking away and up on another hill in front of me I thought I had noticed a reddish color in a group of cows. I looked again, harder, thinking maybe another cow was having a calf. When I got closer, I discovered what my eye had caught from afar. Located on the cow's back end, up high, underneath the tail was a reddish white tissue of sorts about the size of a baby's head hanging out the vulva. I knew it was not the amnion sac, but I had no idea of what it could be. Finding unusual unknowns ranks at the very bottom of my "likes" of living on a cattle farm. Just minutes ago, I was at a high. Now my mind is processing what all needs to be done in the next bit, to figure out the problem this cow is having. Farming brings forth the presentation of both immense, joyful highs and dreadful, doomed concerns. I made a mental note of the black cow's features, so I could refer to my cattle journal and pin point which cow she was. Good sized, good looking, winter coat of wavy hair on neck, black sac, and long black teats.

We have two herds on the farm. This back Gammon Mills Herd consist of 48 cattle. About half of them are black in color and they do not have tags. By making detailed notes of the tiny differences in the black cattle, I have gotten really good, at the seemingly impossible feat of differentiating the black animals. We started the culling process, as of last year, and plan on tagging the cows here in the late winter. This will be nice. Last year, in 2020, we took 65 cattle to the market, which included our bulls. That left us going into 2021 with 72 cattle. We have already had 9 new calves in this cold, wet weather and have the goal of creating a calving season in 2022 that is in the spring instead of the winter.

As I trudged through the mucky, winter pugged pasture, I was scrolling through my mental notes of our cows and I was pretty sure that this cow with the problem had an all black bull calf last year named Black Bobbin. I kept seeing the pinkish nude colored nose of the new calf in my visual memory. Therefore, it was right then I decided the new calf's name shall be Little Pinky. When I got back to the house to look through my farm journal, I was able to conclude that I was right about what black cow had the problem. I got my cow book out to take a look at the birthing process and thought she might be having a prolapse. I went back out to check her and the ball sized tissue was gone and everything looked perfectly fine. Unbelievable. Later, when Dad and Eastenn Dutch drove out to the back pasture on the International tractor, they called and said the tissue like ball was back out. At this time, Dad called the vet and we decided to walk her on in to the barn, to be put in a stable. By the time we saw her again, the mysterious ball had gone back in. Luckily, she followed us right to the barn chasing the back end of the round bale of hay. Dad drove the tractor, while I hung back to pull in the line if she went askew. After watching her walk that long distance from the back pasture, we now knew for certain she was pregnant. We put her up in a stable. Then, by the end of the day got to talk to a vet on the phone. She let me know that it sounded like a prolapse and that as long as it goes back in, and we keep a good watch on her, everything should be okay. One of the most uncomfortable aspects of having a prolapsed vagina is that it makes it very hard to urinate, as it blocks the bladder. Not to mention, that if it is out, the cow cannot give birth.

For the next couple days we kept a very good eye on her and she seemed completely fine. She had not prolapsed anymore since we had gotten her in the stable. We had even planned on letting her back out of her stable on Tuesday morning, but when Dad got out to the barn to feed that morning she had prolapsed again. We hoped it would go back in on its own, but it never did. I called Mt. Empire Vet to go over all the possibilities and what should be done next. I had never witnessed this sort of thing, first hand. I have been around cattle ever since I was a little girl because they were always here, but never had any daily responsibilities. At our old farm, we did a little bit of rotational custom grazing, but these animals were steers and there were never any health issues that surfaced while in our care. My knowledge and working experience is in the sciences, organic soil science/health, organic vegetable production, regenerative land rotations, cooking, and being a Mom. I have a good understanding about cattle, but there are certain know hows that come with being around and working with cattle, day in and day out, for many many years. I have had only about 2 years of this type of intimate work and observation with cattle.

The vet arrived and took a look at her. He confirmed it was a vaginal prolapse and he said he would push it back in. As we got her in the chute, all the while I was asking questions. He pushed the large ball sized prolapse back in. He felt her cervix and for the calf in utero, to see how long he thought it would be till she delivered. He said she was carrying a large calf, but it could still be 2-3 weeks before the calf would be born. Then, he let us know what he tells people to do with cows that have this condition. Generally he stitches them up deep and inside so the vagina cannot prolapse. Then, recommends taking them straight to the market to be slaughtered. As a mother who had carried a child, I immediately put my self in her shoes. Mamma cow had been carrying this calf for almost 9 months, and I thought that she would at least want the chance to give birth to this calf if she could. So for me, taking her to the market for slaughter was a for certain no. Next, we talked about the implications of stitching her up. If we went this route and mamma cow went into labor with no one around to cut the stitches, both new calf and mamma could face the risk of dying. I knew we were going to check on her regularly during the day, but we knew we were not going to camp out in the barn overnight. So, this did not seem like a good choice to me either. Nothing was seeming like a good solution. I had watched the vet push the prolapse back into her cavity and in my mind I wondered if I could push it back in. I spoke up and said, "does one have to be a long time trained vet to be able to push that bulging ball back in, because if not, then I am willing to give it a try." I wondered at this point if he thought I was crazy, but in my mind it seemed the only appropriate thing to do. The vet said, that if I was willing, then I could do it. He said there was nothing that I could hurt and the inside of her vagina was not really an area that can be infected. It would be sufficient to give it a quick soapy wash before pushing it back in. I looked at Dad and asked what he thought. He just said, if that is what you want to try, then we can give it a shot. Since this was the route we decided, the vet volunteered to do three small stitches across the very outside of her vulva that might help keep it in without causing any troubles during labor, as the stitches would just break. The most amazing part of this condition is that when the cow finally does go into labor, and the prolapsed vagina has been pushed in, the cervix will actually keep it from prolapsing during the birthing process.

The reasons why a prolapse happens to some cattle is because the pressure the large calf puts on the cows vagina and vulva when she lays down, along with the hormones that are acting to loosen, stretch, and relax this area. Also, if it happened to her this time. Then chances are high it will happen again, if she carries another calf. Despite her good build, nice sac, and the fact that she has probably had at least 5 healthy calves already, the chance of her prolapsing again would put her in the cull category. Our best hope was that she would safely have this last calf and get to nurse it for the next 6 months. We put her back in the stable and left the barn about an hour after midday. I felt a sense of relief now that I knew all aspects of the condition and what we needed to do to take care of her. I even hopefully thought her prolapse would be contained by that simple stitching the vet did and perhaps I would not even have to push it back in before the calf was born.

Well, later that afternoon when Dad went to check on her, she had already prolapsed again. It was on Wednesday evening that we preformed our first vet like procedure. We got together all our supplies, which included Dr. Bronner's unscented soapy water, long gloves, headlamps, and a hand towel, and headed out to the barn. We got her in the catch and went to work. She was an excellent patient, very mild and calm, no complaints. Dad held her tail up, assisted with the soapy water, and I was the one that was going to push the prolapse back in. I was able to successfully get the vaginal prolapse back in and she was able to relieve her bladder. What an experience it was to be able to feel an inner canal area that the human eye cannot see. When physical things cannot be viewed, but felt, I am pretty for sure this has to engage a different neuron within the brain. Vets and doctors must have a higher level of acute sensory development, because of their constant practice of this.

It ended up with close watch, that on average, we would push in her prolapse about 3 times a day. She eventually got so use to the protocol that we would not even have to put her in the chute. She would just walk out of her stable into the narrow paneled area, stop there, and let us do our work. I wanted to believe that all this time and effort was going to have a positive outcome, but I was starting to dread the thought of having to do this for the next 2 weeks. Her teats had really started to fill out and we hoped that the calf would come before the vet predicted. When we went out before bed on Saturday night to do our procedure. We had the idea that we needed to scrub her tail. We had concluded that there was some dried manure that was rubbing a hardened rough spot on the prolapsed vagina. This seemed concerning to me. I did not want this tissue that was always moist and warm internally, to get dry uncomfortable, and scabbed. Neither Dad nor I had ever scrubbed a cow's tail till it was sleek and shiny. It felt good to do it. We were pleased that this might feel better on her when she prolapses.

That night I feel asleep thinking about Mamma cow and tried to send her good prayers. On Valentine's day, a day that represents dear love and joy, I awoke at my normal time and came down to the kitchen to get breakfast ready. I was sitting down reading when everyone else started filing into the kitchen. When Dad walked in, wrapping his robe, he asked if I had gotten his note? I jumped up in a slightly frantic way and said, "what note, what note, where is it" while looking all around the kitchen. It was if I knew, the note was either good or bad news and I wanted to read it instead of hearing it. Before I could spot where he had put it, I could tell that what he was about to say was something good. All in a moment of blur and joy I heard that mamma cow had her calf. Dad had gone out at 4 am. When he peeped in the stable, he was pleased that she had not prolapsed. Then, he thought he noticed something in the straw. Sure enough there was a new black baby calf laying there on the straw in the dark. I was so joyful and pleased to hear this news. My husband Matthew had seen my reaction and put forth a name based on that and that is how the calf became known as "Black Joy". I threw on my work clothes and ran out to the barn. The calf was a sweet heifer calf that looked just like Mamma cow.

Now, a few days after the calf's birth, mamma cow and Black Joy are doing very well. In fact, we are thinking that mamma cow might not ever want to leave the stable, as she has alfafa, hay, and water. She and Black Joy are staying cozy and warm on the soft bedded down stable, eating, sleeping and enjoying each other, just the way it should be for a pair introduced on Valentine's Day in the hay.

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Sarah B. Gilliam
Sarah B. Gilliam
Feb 24, 2021

Such a great account, Allie! We are glad to be able to keep up with your farm goings on. Much love to you, Matthew, and a special hello from Ivy to E.D. xoxo


Wow! What a story! Welcone to the world Black Joy! And way to go Mama, Allie & family! It’s so fascinating to read your descriptions of all you’re learning as you get to know and care for your herd so intimately. I think you’re right about the incredible intuitive & super-sensing nature of doctors and vets with years of experience. So cool! Love you all! ❤️


This story had me on the edge of my seat. I was rooting for the mama!! I loved that you shared “Black Joy” with us!

Keep writing writing of your beautiful farm adventures, dear friend. I look forward to following along :)

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