This post is linked to Patchwork Living Blogging Bee #16 at Attainable Sustainable and Frugal Kiwi, click on the links to have a look at all the other great blogs that are linked there too. This post is also linked to the Homestead Barn Hop #41.
Over the past few months we've been watching Bella for signs of heat. No, not summer heat, we have been tracking her ovulation cycles so we can get the vet in to artificially inseminate her. This is where the conversation can get complicated for some people (dare I generalise and say "city people"?). In fact its been funny how many people didn't realise that dairy cows only produce milk after they have had a calf. Yep, just like human females, the milk is really there to feed a baby, so the baby has to come first. Most real dairy farmers aim to have each cow have a calf once a year, they aim to get the cow pregnant again about 3 months after the calf is born, and dry her off 1-2 months before the next calf is born, so her body isn't under too much strain. For the farmer, this is a case of optimising profit from milk production against cow life expectancy.
One of the luxuries of not being real farmers is we can run things to our schedule as we're not trying to make money! We plan to wean Molly and dry up Bella after Christmas. Then we are free to take a few weeks holiday without worrying about milking. We could have tried to get Bella in calf earlier, but we didn't want another winter calf, preferring a spring calf when the weather's warmer and more feed in the paddock, so we've left it until December to start trying.
We have two options for getting Bella pregnant - put her with a bull or artificial insemination. We don't know anyone with a suitable bull, and as Bella is very small, we want me make sure she only have a small calf, so she's less likely to get into trouble with calving. We decided to get the vet in to do the AI for us, we could learn ourselves, but there doesn't seem much point if we're only doing it occasionally and not getting much practice.
We have observed Bella in a heat a few times, and Molly for the first time a few weeks ago. Our dairy farmer friend says that cows are moody like women, and I have to agree, you do see Bella in different moods and when she's on heat she gets particularly short-tempered. She bellows at us when she sees us and tries to ride the other cattle (including poor little Molly). When she's on "standing heat" she will stand while the other cattle try to mount her, and this is the ideal time for the vet to come.
While we were waiting for the ideal time, I talked to the vet and arranged for some lowline semen to be delivered to the vet. When we saw that Bella was on heat the other day, I called the vet first thing in the morning and organised for him to come out after we were home from work. When he got to our place we put Bella in the crush (where she usually eats her afternoon feed) and she was happily munching when the vet approached with his gloved hand.....
I was surprised how good Bella was, considering how much she kicks us when we are trying to milk her, she didn't seem to mind having the vet's hand up her rear end at all! She did look around at him a few times and then continued eating. After the vet was finished he gave me the end of the straw of semen that he'd used. It had the bull's name recorded as "Kaptain Nightcrawler"! At first I thought that was some kind of hip-hop name, but it seems that there are many lowline bulls called kaptain, so maybe they are just of East European origin! Does anyone know about naming bulls? I was hoping to find a photo of him on the net, but I haven't been able to find out anything.
|This is Bella's face while the vet was busy at the other end.|
(I was going to take a photo of what the vet was doing, but it wasn't very nice,
so I thought I'd spare you the gory details!)
|This is the straw after the vet was finished, see the Kaptain Nightcralwer?|
After Christmas if we don't see Bella come on heat again, we will know that she is in calf, and we can expect a little lowline-jersey cross calf next spring. If not, we will be ready to try again. We are yet to see the vet bill....