The Dairy Farm Adventures: Napoleon

Posted Wednesday, August 7, 2013 in Features

The Dairy Farm Adventures: Napoleon

by Lee-Rae Jordan-Oliver

After the plastic tarp blew off the greenhouse in November, 2010, Matthew and I hired Rick's construction crew to build a thirty by sixty foot addition behind our big barn to shelter the twenty  heifers we'd recently purchased.   Working in the bitter cold and snow, Rick's team completed the project by the second week of December just as winter tightened her arctic grip on Westford Hill.

The new addition provided more than enough space for our expanding herd as well as a Lineback bull, Napoleon, who roamed freely with the cows.  Napoleon acquired his name for his small stature and commanding nature.  He had lived on our farm since mid-summer breeding our cows.    A cow's lactation period lasts approximately three hundred days.  A cow's new lactation begins after she's calved.  Hence, Napoleon played a primary role on our dairy farm.  We borrowed our bulls from Dale, a respectable cattle dealer from southern Maine.  He brought us young bulls who were still wary of humans and youthfully unaware of their massive strength. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011, was a date night for Matthew and me.  On date night our babysitter, Jillian, ate supper with the children, gave them a bath, and put them to bed after story time.    Meanwhile, Matthew and I grabbed a bite to eat and then headed to the barn to milk the cows together.  On that frigid January night, we milked the cows without incident, and I returned to the house to drop into bed at 10 p.m.  Matthew stayed in the barn to finish washing the milking units and to check on a heifer who was calving in the new barn.  

Matthew woke me from a deep sleep at 1 a.m. “I need your help pulling a calf out of its mother.”

“O.K.,” I drowsily answered.  I stumbled into my camouflage work pants and winter barn coat and shoved my feet back into my knee-length muck boots and set off for the barn, letting the blast of winter air snap me awake. 

The heifer was sprawled on her side in the back corner of the barn, completely spent from laboring too long.  Two hooves and a black snout protruded from the her birth canal.   A handful of curious cows and Napoleon milled around us.  Matthew and I positioned ourselves on the floor, each holding a rope connected to the calf's front feet.  Each time the heifer had a contraction, we pulled with every ounce of our strength, but the calf wouldn't budge. 

Knowing time was running out for the first time mother, we called a nearby cattle farmer and his wife to help us.  At 2 a.m., Tim and Sharon arrived bringing the chains with special hand grips used for difficult deliveries.  I had flashbacks of the first time they helped us deliver a calf  a year ago and hoped everything would go as smoothly as before.  Without dillydallying, Matthew and Tim settled onto the floor while Sharon and I placed our hands into the cow's birth canal, ready to stretch the skin over the calf's head.  When the heifer pushed, the men pulled, and the women stretched.  After several attempts without adequate progress, Sharon and I switched positions with the men and laid our backsides in the frozen muck.  By this time, we knew the calf was dead, and we were more determined than ever not to lose the mother too.  At the next contraction, I yelled, “PULL!”  Sharon and I strained every muscle fiber we owned.  The heifer and I bellowed in unison at the top of our lungs as we all worked together.  Surprisingly, the calf's head, shoulders, and belly slid out.  At first, we were hopeful, but soon realized the hips were anchored inside the mother.  As a last resort, we used the skid steer's horsepower to release the calf's body from the heifer.  In less than ten seconds, the ordeal was over, and the mother heaved a sigh of relief.

Throughout the entire time, Napoleon hovered behind our backs watching every move.  Caught up in the moment, I was completely oblivious as to his whereabouts until reentering the back barn after fetching a tool from the main barn.  Napoleon met me at the entrance as if to say, “You may not enter.”  I stopped in my tracks.  Napoleon stood five feet from me and stared.  I looked up over his back to the opposite corner where Matthew, Tim, and Sharon were bent over the heifer, too far away to help.  If I stepped backwards, Napoleon could pin me into the corner, and if I turned to flee he could quickly run me down.  Lowering my eyes so he wouldn't feel challenged, I stepped past him, hoping he would not sense my fear.  His glare pierced my backside as I disappeared amongst the cows clustered around the recovering heifer.  I became acutely aware of Napoleon's proximity and told Matthew, Tim, and Sharon to watch out for the bull. 

Early the next morning, I tiptoed around the outside of the new barn and peeked into the back to check on the young cow.  Napoleon rested beside her with the warmth of his broad back resting against her back.  Not only was his body heat keeping her from shivering, but his weight propped her upright  so she wouldn't roll flat on her side which can be detrimental to a cow's health.  As the young cow dozed, Napoleon, very aware my presence, swung his head in my direction.  Protected by a gate, I met his gaze.  His dark eyes were soft and nonthreatening as if to say to me, “See, I'm a good boy.” 

“Yes Napoleon, you did a good job taking care of her.  Thank you.” I said to him.

After telling Matthew about Napoleon's charming vigil, I described the details of my uneasy encounter with him.  I strongly suggested we have Dale pick up the bull before he turned on us.  By the end of the week,  Napoleon had returned to Dale's farm.  A few days later, Matthew called him to see how the bull was behaving.   Dale told him Napoleon had bulldozed him against the wall.   To save his life, he dove over a barricade before the bull could ram him again.  Napoleon was taken to the beef auction the next day.   Hearing Dale's story reminded us of how on guard we must be when sixteen hundred pounds of volatile testosterone resides on our farm.

I named the young cow we assisted “Mellow Bellow” for all the bellowing we did together.   It took her a few months to fully recover from her harrowing experience, but she is now a healthy, handsome looking cow who earns her keep on the farm.   Mellow is one of my favorite cows for she represents strength and resiliency.  As for Napoleon, he could have snuggled with twenty other cows, but he chose Mellow.  Was it coincidence or compassion?  I believe Napoleon sensed Mellow's need for warmth and comfort, and for one night he was her knight in shining armor.  Some days farmers do have their Pollyanna endings.  

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