July 27 2023 09:10 AM

Caring for livestock often means following your gut.

Last night, I came home late from ball practice. A few months ago, I started assisting a travel softball team that consists of 8- to 10-year-olds. It’s a nice way to get off the farm and think about something I enjoyed a lot when growing up. Anyway, I came home on the later side, took a shower, and went to sleep. I wasn’t asleep more than 30 minutes when I got this awful gut feeling that I needed to get to the barn and check on a cow. So, at 10:30 p.m. last night, I got in my truck and took off.

At first glance, the barn looked like it always does in the middle of the night — peaceful. I drove around and found cattle munching on hay, lazily chewing cud on the pack, and a few grazing in the grass under the cool moonlight. As I drove, I started looking for the cow that was in pre-labor when I left the barn. I was more worried about her than anything else and began searching everywhere for her. After 20 minutes in the truck, I realized I needed to grab the four-wheeler. My truck went from the town truck to a farm truck quickly after I bought it, and it can usually get around pretty well, but last night, it was too dark and the ground was soft, so off on the four-wheeler I went.

Again, I searched the lot and looked everywhere until I finally found the cow under an old persimmon tree. To my discouragement, I saw that she had not progressed since I had left at 7:30 p.m. So, I drove down and set the gates to the working pen, got stung by some irritated wasps, and then went back up to bring her down. However, when I got back to her, there was one foot visible — and it was upside down. I silently cursed then called my father, knowing we had to intervene now or lose the calf and/or the cow.

So, at 11 p.m., we went to work getting the calf out of the cow. It was so hot last night, and I was so not dressed for this job. I was still in my pajamas, my hair was down, and I was sweating profusely. But within 30 minutes, the calf was out, and the cow was fine. The cow had a beautiful little heifer that we managed to save just in time.

One thing I’ve learned is to follow your gut on the farm. If you feel something isn’t right, it probably isn’t. Being woken up at 10:30 last night and rushing to the barn wasn’t something I had anticipated, but I’m sure glad I went. Call it luck or call it the powers from above, but whatever woke me up last night saved a calf and a cow and helped grow my herd healthily. Stay safe out there, folks.

Courtney Henderson

The author is a sixth-generation farmer and fifth-generation dairy producer in southwest Virginia, where she and her family own and operate a 145-head Holstein dairy. Courtney is involved in agriculture organizations throughout her community and is a graduate of Virginia Tech.