We really didn't express much concern when Dinah's due date came and went. She's half Brown Swiss, so she's always overdue by DHIA calculations. Plus, she's 13 1/2 years old and all of our old cows tend to spend a little more time gestating. The fact that she was still gestating at all is somewhat of a miracle.

Dinah's dairy career started when I was still in high school. My dad was working off the farm at the time so I was taking care of the milking chores before and after school. The day Dinah calved for the very first time I had stayed after school for practice before heading home. I found Dinah when I went out to bring the cows in from pasture. She had laid down to deliver her calf in an old furrow. I'll never know exactly how things went wrong, but they had. I had mentally kicked myself for not coming home right away, thinking maybe I could have prevented the situation. Dinah was laying there with a prolapsed uterus. Her big, dead bull calf was laying nearby.

It would be over an hour before my dad came home from work and I knew Dinah needed help before then. Had I grown up in an area like Stearns County, where dairy farmers have a top-notch supporting infrastructure, I would have called the vet. But we didn't have a vet. (My dad took care of all our basic herd health. Thankfully, life-threatening conditions like this were few and far between. So, I called two retired dairy farmers who lived nearby for assistance and got the same advice: just call the locker. I decided, instead, that Dinah's career wasn't going to end before it ever started. My uncle, despite being completely unable to stomach the sight of blood, had experience inverting prolapses. I made arrangements for him to be there when my dad got home.

I'm not sure how they did it, because I went to milk, but my dad and my uncle put Dinah back together again, stitched her up and got her to her feet. I'll never forget how cold and shaky she was when I went out to see her after milking. And I'll never forget how red my dad's white long underwear were when I saw them in the laundry the next day. Dinah made it through the night and into the barn the next morning. Within a couple days I couldn't even tell her delivery experience had been abnormal. Every time her turn came to be milked she would lick me mercilessly while I plugged the cane into the pipeline. I liked to think it was her way of saying thank you.

It took her awhile to breed back after that first calving, but she did - and she delivered her next calf without any trouble. Her next seven calves came without incident as well. But not number 10.

Glen was the first to check the dry cows last Monday morning and reported, "Dinah's calving. Feet are out. Check on her again in a little while."

I noticed three things when I went to check on Dinah later: there were still just feet out, the feet were quite large, and, upon closer inspection, the feet were upside down. Shoot. (That's the G-rated version of what I actually said). I told Glen to open the door and went back to escort Dinah from the calving pen to the barn. We try to do breech deliveries in the barn.

We let Dinah settle down while we finished milking and the other morning chores. When we returned she was still eating and still hadn't made any progress. It would have helped if she had laid down, but Dinah refuses to lay down in a stall. (During the winter she rests on a pile of straw in the aisle by the door.) We looped the OB chains around those huge hind feet and tried pulling. Dinah started pushing again, but even with her help, we made zero progress.

We let her out of the stall to encourage her to lay down again, but she just bee-lined for the door thinking she was going back out. We put her back in a stall and tried again. Still nothing but feet coming out. Glen checked the gender of the calf - there is one convenience of breech deliveries - and I stopped panicking after we learned it was a bull calf. The exam also revealed the calf was indeed very large and coming out at an odd angle.

So we made a decision we'd never had to make before. We called the vet. I wasn't sure what Doc was going to do that we hadn't already tried, but we were out of options. Doc arrived shortly, examined Dinah and announced, "I'm going to get the calf-puller."

My stomach flip-flopped. I'd only seen calf-pullers in catalogues. And the only stories I'd heard about them were unpleasant. I was doubly sure now that Dinah's calf would be DOA and started worrying about her own well-being. I made the comment that a big, dead bull calf would be a fitting way to retire since that's how her career started. (We had decided when we dried her off that this would be Dinah's last lactation; after this one, she'll go out to pasture with Ginny to live out the rest of her days.)

My doubts and worries were unnecessary. Five minutes later, albeit with considerable assistance, Dinah's calf was delivered. He was huge, but he was alive. My misgivings about vet-assisted deliveries and calf-pullers have been replaced with respect and the reminder that there's a time and place for everything. I know we wouldn't have a healthy cow and calf without Doc's help and his contraption. Now Dinah will be able to finish her career and retire the way I had always hoped she would.

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn., with help from their 2-year-old son, Dan, and their infant daughter, Monika. When she's not farming, she's writing for the Dairy Star. Sadie can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.