Caramel is a wonderful cow who lives on a beautiful free range farm in Millbrook, Ontario. Her days here are happy as she wanders with her herd over lush, green meadows and grazes contentedly. She has ponds for water, a forested area to explore, and rolling hills that create a scene like a landscape painting. The farmers place the emphasis on herd health and happiness, refusing to cut corners for profit. They will not produce veal and they never separate calves from their mothers, which is a heart breaking part of the dairy industry. Every drop of the mother's milk goes to her new baby.
Caramel is giving birth to a new calf.
As instinct tells her to do, she finds a quiet spot away from the rest of the herd and she lies down on a slope, waiting as the contractions start. Her water has broken and her amniotic sac is bulging. She knows it is time. The birth was going smoothly for a few moments but then Caramel seems agitated and distressed. Her baby isn't moving and it is encased in the thick amniotic sac. Caramel begins to bellow loudly and she sniffs at her calf before it is even fully out. It's possible that this is a pain reaction, but it's also possible that she is trying to make the baby move so she is reassured that it is alright. With the baby almost all of the way out, Caramel shrieks and stands up abruptly, causing the baby to fully enter the world.
The herd had been grazing contentedly until they heard Caramels cries. They began to call loudly and they ran in her direction. They seem concerned for both Caramel and the bay and they inspect it closely. This show of surprising intelligence and compassion is a clear demonstration that cows have more emotional capacity than we give them credit for.
In the wild, cows are prey animals and they know that predators will be attracted to the smell of the afterbirth. For the safety of both, she frantically tries to eat all of the amniotic sac as quickly as possible. While the calf is unable to stand, she must be sure to avoid attracting any attention. Licking the calf clean is also for protection, but it provides stimulation and helps the mother and calf bond and recognize the scent of the other. Within 15 minutes the calf is much more alert and it tries to stand. Caramel is eager to encourage the calf and she licks and nudges the calf repeatedly. It needs the first milk that she produces for antibodies and high protein. This colostrum is very important for the calf's immune system and future health.
Being highly social herd animals, some of their behaviour is protective. Some of it is curiosity and some of it may be their way of congratulating Caramel, relieved that the bay is healthy. Once on her feet, little "Holly" found her way to the milk supply and nursed greedily. She stood back legs first with an adorable clumsiness that resembled a newborn deer.
Holly is one of more than 25 calves born in this herd this spring. She will grow quickly and have a wonderful life on this incredible farm.