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What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Cow…. Part Two

Guest post by Mama Lynn #108.

Mooooooorning, everyone – Mama Lynn again. And I’m still pregnant.

I know I told you during my last guest post that here at the Accokeek Foundation we try to time baby season for when the fresh spring grass is growing.

Well, the crocuses are peeking out and WE HAVE BABIES.

Like I said, mine’s not here yet. I’m still waddling around. But there are other babies in the field that I get to visit!

devons and calf - mama lynn

Since the sheep were due first, when the end of February rolled around our livestock manager Miss Polly moooved all of the expecting mamas out of the fields and into the barn. We cows don’t usually calve in the barn, unless it’s very snowy – Miss Polly tells us the lambs are mooore at risk from predators, and so it’s much healthier and safer for the little lambs to spend the first part of their lives inside the barn. (But we all know that really it’s just because sheep are wimps compared to cows.)

Photo by Casey Lowe

Photo by Casey Lowe

When baby season rolls around, Miss Polly and the other staff will start watching us carefully for signs of labor – which might include going off by ourselves, pacing, kicking at our bellies, and generally seeming “restless.” We will continue eating and chewing cud throughout labor, because a girl needs her energy. As the sheep go into labor, they are moooved into special birthing pens. Calves are born right in the field (unless there’s an emergency), and Miss Polly is always there to watch and lend a hand during active labor if we need her – but we rarely do! Active labor lasts around 45 minutes, and if it’s any longer that is when Miss Polly helps.

For the past two years, Luda decided to calve during a snowstorm – just so she could stay in the barn and get some extra grain! This year I had a talk with her, so she waited until the snow was gone. Mercy and Bliss both had their little ones while it was still very cold though, so they got to spend some time in the barn. And Mercy went in the middle of the night, and took Miss Polly on a wild chase through the woods!

Once the calves and lambs are born, staff takes over for a few minutes. If we’re on our own, the first thing we do is lick the babies clean and dry, so staff will rub them dry with a towel, dip their umbilical cords in iodine to stop infection, and then weigh them in a sling. The lambs have their tails docked to prevent flystrike. Every baby gets an ear tag with a number for easy identification (by the humans! We tell our babies apart by scent). The sheep stay with their lambs in the birthing pens for the first 24-48 hours after birth, which encourages bonding and nursing, and allows staff a chance to observe each lamb closely. During the first few days after birth, we mamas produce colostrum instead of regular milk – it is thick and full of antibodies to boost the babies’ immune systems, and so it’s important to make sure that all the babies drink it. Unlike the sheep, we cows stay right out in the field with our babies – and we raise them using a nursery system! We all take turns watching the calves, even those of us who haven’t given birth yet. I’m a very good calfsitter, if I do say so myself.

If you’d like to see the babies, stop by and find us in the field across from the livestock barn. Here’s hoping I’ve had my own little one by the time you get here… I’m tired of carrying this weight around!

This year’s calves have all been sold, but if you are interested in purchasing a 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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