Farm animals, Today on the Farm

Blake Hansen: Cattle Ob-gyn

About 200 calves are born each year at Hansen’s Dairy, and Herd Manager Blake Hansen serves as a type of cattle ob-gyn for the expecting cows. While difficulties during labor are uncommon, difficult labors are very hard on the cows and can lead to diminished milking productivity and decreased fertility. For these reasons, Blake keeps a close eye on the cows near the end of their 9-month pregnancy.

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Though each cow is different, Blake will see several indications that a cow is close to labor. In the week before calving, her feed intake decreases and her udder will start to swell. Young heifer’s udders can start swelling as early as 1 month before labor. Several days before labor, the ligaments on the tail head cave in slowly, then drastically when labor is only hours away.

During the first stage of labor, the calf is being forced toward the birth canal and the cervix is beginning to dilate. Because of the dilation, the base of her tail may appear to have a kink in it. At this point, the cow will be moved inside the barn to the maternity pen so she can deliver her calf in a dry, clean space.

Shortly after, the water bag will appear from the vulva. It will resemble a small reddish-brown balloon filled with water, or the bag may burst inside her. When this bag breaks, the cow will feel a release of pressure and she’ll get up to investigate. If she makes no progress for a half-hour after the water bag has appeared or burst, Blake will help the cow with her delivery.

During the second stage of labor the contractions become strong and coordinated. They will come 3 to 5 minutes apart. The cow will often lie on her side begin to push. She will be visibly straining.

Within an hour after the water bag has appeared, two small white hooves should emerge from the vulva while still in the embryotic fluid bag. After a few minutes, the nose will follow, then the shoulders, body and hind legs. The cow will immediately stand and turn to clean the calf with her tongue.

80% of births are unassisted and calves will enter the birth canal correctly, with their front feet first and nose between their knees. But sometimes, the calves may have limbs twisted, be backwards (breech) or too large.

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The above picture, from Oregon State University Extension Service (http://ans.oregonstate.edu/sites/ans.oregonstate.edu/files/extension/cattle/CalvingSchool-theCalvingProcess.pdf), shows a calf entering the birth canal in the correct position.

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The above picture, from Oregon State University Extension Service (http://ans.oregonstate.edu/sites/ans.oregonstate.edu/files/extension/cattle/CalvingSchool-theCalvingProcess.pdf), shows a calf in the birth canal with its front leg pinned back. A cow with her calf in this position would require some assistance during labor.

backwardcalfThis picture, from Oregon State University Extension Service (http://ans.oregonstate.edu/sites/ans.oregonstate.edu/files/extension/cattle/CalvingSchool-theCalvingProcess.pdf), shows a calf in the backwards (breech) position. Blake must quickly deliver the calf before the cow is pushing too much, or it will be hard to reach in and grab the hind legs.

The third and final stage of labor is the passing of the afterbirth. The cow’s uterine contractions will continue in order to expel the remaining fetal membranes. This will last anywhere from 1 to 12 hours.

Some tour participants are lucky enough to witness a calf being born. It’s wonderful to see the miracle of life before your eyes!

Written by Kelby Robb

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Cooking with the Hansens, Family, For kids, Local foods

Making butter — a fun and tasty snack

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Hansen’s Farm Fresh Dairy makes butter on a much larger scale, but the process is essentially the same.

Making butter is a fun, easy experiment — it’s educational and delicious. Try this at home with your kids. No old-fashioned butter churn required!

This activity will yield just enough butter for a single piece of bread or several crackers. For larger amounts of butter, use more heavy whipping cream and a mixer to thicken the cream. As a bonus, you can also make your own buttermilk by following these directions.

To start, purchase a quart of heavy whipping cream from Hansen’s Farm Fresh Dairy.

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Hansen’s Dairy tour participants shake their jars of cream.

Pour 2 tablespoons of the heavy whipping cream into a small sealable container (preferably glass, like a baby food jar).

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The chunk of butter is clearly visible after draining the buttermilk.

Seal the container and shake it vigorously for 3-5 minutes. The cream will start sticking to the sides, but you’re not done yet. Suddenly, a chunk of light, fluffy butter will clearly separate from the watery buttermilk and you’ll be able to hear it start slapping around in the jar. Once you hit this point, it’s important to stop shaking the jar (don’t over shake). The cream turns to butter because of the agitation and the warmth of your hands.

The butter isn’t ready to eat quite yet. Drain the buttermilk (the excess liquid) from your container. Next, spoon up the butter left in your container and dip it into cool water to rinse the remaining buttermilk from the butter.

When the excess water is gone from the butter, sprinkle on a small amount of salt, or even some fresh herbs, and spread it onto your bread or crackers. Enjoy your homemade butter!

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Let us do the work — try a tub of Hansen’s Dairy butter!

To store leftovers, put the butter in a sealable container and refrigerate it.

Written by Kelby Robb, Hansen’s Dairy intern