After the trick-or-treating was done and the chores were finished, Glen found one of our heifers, Helen, in early labor.
Fueled by Halloween candy and a couple of short naps, Glen stayed up late to make sure Helen was able to deliver her calf. His attentiveness proved necessary, as Helen needed considerable help to deliver her large calf.
When Glen finally crawled into bed, he murmured, "Helen had a heifer calf."
The next morning, when I was capable of thinking again, I asked about the calf. Glen said he had to get the block-and-tackle to pull the calf and that he was excited about Helen's calf. Helen is a nice-looking heifer out of a good cow family and her calf is our first calf out of a new bull Glen's been using.
I was stoked, too. What are the odds that one of our H cows would deliver a heifer calf on Halloween, my second favorite holiday? Obviously, this calf's name would be Halloween.
When we put Halloween in the pen with the other heifer calves, it became clear just how big our beautiful heifer calf was. More importantly, though, she drank good from the first feeding (which is really all I'm concerned about; nothing frustrates me more than calves who pretend they don't know how to suckle).
Well, when she was 10 days old, Halloween didn't finish her evening bottle. I wasn't too concerned. She looked bright and alert and had eagerly drank most of her bottle. But, since I was already late for getting the kids to bed, I asked Glen to take a look at her for me and treat her if she had a temp.
When Glen came in later, this is what he said:
"So, this calf you call Halloween? Well, I went into the pen to take a look at her. The first thing I did was check her navel. (Standard protocol for us is to check navels for the first week and then anytime after when a calf doesn't feel well.) And while I was checking her navel, she peed on me."
"Huh?" I asked.
"At first I thought she was peeing and it was just running down her belly onto my hand. But then I slid my hand up and, sure enough, there was a coin purse."
"Are you serious?" I was trying to figure out how to laugh and be mad at the same time.
"Yeah, I'm serious," Glen said.
I was still shaking my head in disbelief the next morning when I got the barn, so I checked Halloween out for myself. Sure enough, Halloween is a boy. In Glen's defense, Halloween's coin purse, as Glen put it, was the smallest bit of male anatomy I've ever seen on a calf. And in the light of just a flashlight, it probably would have been easy to miss. Normally, we check between a newborn calf's legs and then check under its tail to confirm its gender, but since it was really late and Glen was really tired, I can't really be mad at him for forgetting to check under Halloween's tail.
What I do find hard to believe, is that it took 10 days for us to notice the error, especially since this wasn't the first time the calf's navel had been checked. Even more boggling, Halloween was checked by two researchers from the university as part of the calf feeder study we're participating in. Neither of them noticed his gender either.
So, I moved Halloween out to a hutch with the other bull calves. And scribbled his name out on the calendar where I record calving events. Below the scribble, I wrote "LOL!" Thankfully, I'm a bit behind and hadn't yet made Halloween's ear tag.
The hardest part was explaining the situation to Monika. She helped me feed calves the morning after I moved Halloween.
"Where's the other black and white girl calf? Helen's calf," she asked. She keeps track of how many girl calves and boy calves we have and which cows they're out of. And she celebrates when we have more girls than boys.
"Well...." I said. "That girl calf is actually a boy, so I moved him out to a hutch."
"It's a boy?" she asked, quizzically. And from the look on her face I could tell she was still trying to figure out how a girl calf could really be a boy calf.
"Ohhhh," she said with disappointment, her voice dropping. "That means we have more boys than girls."
She didn't ask for an explanation of how I knew it was a boy. Sooner or later, she (and Dan) will learn how to check calves' genders on their own.
Until then, Halloween will serve as a prominent reminder that it's always a good idea to double check each calf's gender.