Day in the Life – A ‘Heart’ for dairy farming

DayintheLifeMy name is Tim May and I am a third-generation dairy farmer in Rockwood, Ontario. Along with my family, I milk a herd of 40 Holstein cows on 250 acres of land. I didn’t always want to be a dairy farmer, but the magic of farm life has a way of drawing you back to your roots. Each day on the farm holds new adventures that are just waiting to unfold. Take this one summer day for instance…

Dairy farmer Tim May with twin calves born on his farm.

Dairy farmer Tim May with twin calves born on his farm.

I woke around 6 a.m., just like I do every day. Like most mornings, it wasn’t easy getting out of bed but the cows need to be milked twice a day, every day, 365 days of the year, no matter what. Plus the milk truck was scheduled to arrive for its 8 a.m. pick up, leaving no time to snooze. I took my short, 30-step commute to the barn only to find my expectant cow, Vanessa, in labour. That’s when the adrenaline kicked in. I knew that the milk truck was coming, but I also knew that my cow may need some assistance with her calf.

Vanessa was looking a little uncomfortable and my farmer instincts told me that I should check to make sure that everything was progressing normally. I put on a pair of clean examination gloves and gently checked the calf. I could feel two feet but no nose, meaning that the calf was likely coming backwards. Vanessa definitely needed my help!

In the back of my mind I was thinking about the milk truck that would be arriving in less than two hours, but when you’re dealing with living creatures certain things take priority. My cows always come first.

I carefully applied gentle traction to the calf’s two feet and began to pull as Vanessa pushed. Slowly, we made progress. Soon the legs emerged and then I could see the tail, confirming a backwards presentation. I felt the tension on my arms and the sweat dripping from my face. It’s critical that a backwards calf comes out quickly to avoid cutting off the oxygen supply for too long a period of time. With one final burst of energy, Vanessa and I delivered the calf!

I was relieved to see the new addition to our farm family take some breaths and lift its head as backwards calves are at high risk for complications. I gently moved the calf towards Vanessa so that she could lick it; drying it off and stimulating it. I could sense that Vanessa was as relieved as I was!

The rest of the cows were anxiously waiting outside the barn for me to open the door after spending the night on pasture. Like clockwork, Sally was the first one in and the girls took turns finding their individual stalls. The cows patiently waited for me to finish my daily milking routine and the milk truck driver detoured to a neighbouring dairy farm, picking up their milk first to give me some extra time to finish. After being milked, the cows eagerly went back outside to have their breakfast and to enjoy a lazy day out on the pasture. I finished cleaning up and gave my new calf a bottle of Vanessa’s colostrum.

An hour had passed since it was born and it was already standing on its long wobbly legs. I disinfected its navel with an iodine solution and added some extra straw to the pen to keep the calf clean and warm.

The rest of my day was a blur. In the warmer weather, I am often busy planting, or harvesting any number of crops. This was haying season. Yesterday I had cut 40 acres of hay with the promise of sunny weather for the next three days, but the first rule in farming is to never trust a weather forecast!

Rolling out round hand bales with rain in the forecast.

Rolling out round bales of hay with rain in the forecast.

At breakfast I quickly checked multiple forecasts on my iPhone and they all now predicted rain this evening! Once again adrenalin kicked in. Neighbours were called in to help and after a few hours of raking, baling, hauling and wrapping hay, the job was done just as the first few drops of rain began to fall. To describe the feeling of finishing a harvest job just as the skies open up, it’s like a heavy burden has been lifted off your back. It is what I call a “farmer high“.

With my back aching from the afternoon rush, I slowly headed to the barn one more time to find the girls waiting at my barn door to be milked once again. It was hot in the barn and I’m sure that the beads of sweat were forming gullies of dirt on my face, but I didn’t care. I was a happy farmer. I could hear the rain falling in torrents outside and I was elated that my hay, the sustenance for my herd, was safely stored away for the upcoming winter.

The rest of my milking went smoothly, but I had one more thing to do before I headed in for supper. I couldn’t wait to check on Vanessa’s calf!

Mom and her baby calf resting after a busy morning in labour.

Mom and her newborn calf resting after a busy morning in labour.

My new addition greeted me with a hesitant curiosity. It slowly stepped its way over to me and sniffed my shirt. It eagerly drank down its bottle of milk and when it was finished, it continued to suckle my fingers looking for more. A feeling of pride came over me. The miracle of birth never ceases to amaze me. I helped bring this new life into the world.

Every calf has its own personality and its own special markings. This calf was a girl –– a heifer, in dairy lingo. Her eyelashes were long and one particular white spot on her head looked like a heart, providing me with a perfect name for her: Heart! After giving Heart a little more straw, I made my way to the house for supper and to tell my family about the day’s events.

In a few hours the alarm clock will ring again, but I will be looking forward to tomorrow’s adventures just as much as Heart will be looking forward to her next bottle of milk.

Want to see more about life on Farmer Tim’s farm? You can find him on Facebook, Twitter (@MayMayhaven), and his Mayhaven blog.

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