The Miracle of Life

Written by guest blogger Jessica Stoscup, Ball State University Dietetic Intern 

The life of an intern is always filled with new and exciting experiences!!! Growing up in Michigan, I remember going to the state fair as a kid. I couldn’t wait to see all the animals. A few days ago I was given the opportunity to visit the Elkhart County 4-H Fair, my first county fair. This is one of the largest 4-H county fairs in the nation.

One of the most interesting and fun exhibits for families at the fair is the Miracle of Life Animal Birthing Center.  The American Dairy Association of Indiana/Indiana Dairy Farm Families has made this exhibit possible again for the second year in a row. Their sponsorship allows families the chance to experience cows giving birth!

The expecting mothers came from two dairy farms in Middlebury: Mike Yoder’s Crystal Valley Dairy Farms and Myron and Michael Oesch’s Mybrook Farm. Only cows that have given birth at least once are brought in. A fun fact: a cow that has never given birth is known as a heifer. After the age of 2 a cow can give birth every year until they get to be 15-20 years old.  A cow’s gestational period is about 280 days or 9 months. Six weeks before a cow gives birth is known as a dry period because the farmers stop milking the cow so she can produce enough milk for her new baby. The calves are born with little immunity so it’s important they get their mother’s colostrum milk which contains vital antibodies right after birth.

At the fair, I actually got the opportunity to see a live birth!  Rich and Richie Knebel of Milk Inc. of Indiana in Winamac were running the operation with the help of Jeff Jehn.  Rich told me that one of the first clues you can look for when a cow is getting ready to give birth is her tail relaxing. This means that her pelvic ligaments are also relaxing and that labor will usually begin within 1-2 hours. Getting closer to birth, the cow becomes more restless and breathes harder. However, it can still be difficult to isolate the exact time the birth will happen.

Weather can play an important role in the birthing process. Most cows like to give birth in colder temperatures. Hotter temperatures can actually stress the cow to a point where she can miscarry. For this reason, the Knebel’s, Jeff, and veterinarian Robert Zell were present to assist with births.

With help “Meg” gave birth to a healthy calf named “Buzz Light-Year”. Within a couple minutes he was up learning to walk and drinking colostrum from his mother. This was such an amazing experience to watch!  In nine days there were a total of thirteen calves born, including twins one day, a rarity. Special thanks goes to Sara Granberg, veterinarian and coordinator of the exhibit for the fair board, for giving us an awesome tour of fair and showing us the Miracle of Life!