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What to Expect When You’re Expecting… a Cow

Guest post by Mama Lynn #108.

DSC_0082 Lynn and the ladies SMALL

Mama Lynn and the ladies. photo by: A.Barnes

Good mooooooorning! My name is Lynn – that’s Mama Lynn to you – and as I’m sure you already know, I’m kind of a big deal at the Accokeek Foundation. I’m the boss of the American Milking Devon herd, second-in-command only to Miss Polly, the livestock manager, and I’ve been tasked with talking a bit about what it’s like to be a pregnant cow (or sheep) here at the Foundation. The humans entrusted me with this because I’m a bit of an expert on the subject – this is my sixth year calving, after all, and Miss Polly knows she can always count on me to have a nice, easy birth.

Now, I know you humans think you have it bad when it comes to pregnancy. I’ve seen your “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” blogs – your symptoms, your kicking babies, and your insistence on comparing the size of your babies to fruit and vegetables. Let me tell you a little about cow pregnancy!

American Milking Devons

Including myself, eight of the cows here at the farm were bred. Our gentleman caller for the last three seasons has been Bubba – a polite (as polite as can be expected, anyway!), if slightly goofy, bull known here at the farm for playing fetch with the staff. He visited the ladies in the pasture from June to July, and as we have an average 284 day gestation period (just over 9 months, so not much longer than yours!) that means our calves are due in March and April.

(And goodbye to Bubba, who has moved on greener pastures at a farm in Virginia now that so many of his daughters will be ready to breed next season. We have a new boyfriend now, Rebel, who only recently come to the Foundation. We haven’t had a chance to meet him yet, but we’re told that he hates geese and will chase them from his pen!)

First Trimester

Feeding time with Polly.

Feeding time with Polly. photo by A.Barnes

At the end of a human’s first trimester, the baby is about three inches long, weighs about an ounce, and is approximately the size of a peapod. It has eyes, eyelids, fingers with fingerprints, and toes.

For cows, each trimester is 94 days long. At the end of the first trimester, our fetuses are about 5 inches long and weigh about 4 ounces. We prefer to give our comparisons in animals – so at the end of the first trimester, the calf is about the size of a rat (or a turnip, if you insist on vegetables!). Our calves have all developed all four of their stomachs and their hooves have formed – though the hooves are soft and will (thankfully, for us!) remain that way until after they are born.

Lorelei, one of the pregnant Milking Devon at the National Colonial Farm.

Lorelei, one of the pregnant Milking Devon at the National Colonial Farm. photo by A.Thompson

Second Trimester

After 27 weeks, a human baby has fingernails, fully formed ears, eyelashes, and hair on the top of its head. It is the size of a head of cauliflower. Pretty big, right? Well…

After 190 days, a fetal calf is as about the size of a beagle… around 22 pounds, or the size of a watermelon. Yeah, you read that right. A full-sized watermelon. And we’ve still got a whole trimester to go. By this point, the calf also has eyelashes, hair on its tail, and we cows are getting quite wide!

Third Trimester

The home stretch! At the beginning of the third trimester, staff can start to see and feel our babies moving. This is also when our udders start to really fill up! Most of the growth for both a human and a calf occurs in the last trimester of pregnancy – as much as 70-75%. A human baby is born after 40 weeks and weighs (on average!) 7.5 pounds.

Milking Devon cows weigh between 1000 and 1200 pounds, and our babies here at the Foundation are on average 65 pounds when they are born. (Just between us, I’m a little on the hefty side and the biggest of the cows, and my babies are big and healthy – averaging 80 pounds. 80 pounds! And you think your babies are huge!)  And then baby care starts… but I’ll talk about the babies in my next blog.

Baby Season at the Farm

pregnant sheep

Pregnant ewes on the farm. photo by A.Thompson

Of course we cows aren’t the only ones expecting here at the Foundation. I might sound biased but the sheep in the next field over have it easy. Sheep are only pregnant for 5 months! Since Mick Jagger, the Foundation’s ram, visited the sheep from October to mid-December that means their babies are due between February and April. The sheep are far more likely to have twins than we cows are, in about 50% of their pregnancies. The mama sheep weigh about 100 pounds, and each one has about 12 pounds of baby at the end – that could be two 6 pound lambs or one big 10-12 pounder. That’s a much bigger baby relative to the size of the ewe than we cows have, so maybe in that instance we lucked out. And don’t tell the sheep, but I do think the baby lambs are awfully cute.

Here at the Foundation, births are timed for when the fresh green spring grass is growing, which supports good milk production to help all of us better feed our little ones.

hog island lamb

Hog Island lamb born in 2014. photo by C.Lowe

Our calving and lambing season also is timed for when the site opens up again for school tours and visitors in mid-March, so make sure to visit us and see our youngsters! (And keep an eye on the events page for information on Lattes with Lambs – our special “visit the babies” event coming up on March 21!)

Check out my Waddle Walk!

If you are interested in purchasing an American Milking Devon calf or Hog Island lamb, we are still accepting deposits for the 2015 season. For more information please contact Polly Festa, Livestock Manager, at
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