Taking My Sons To See A Cow Give Birth

by Jeff Vrabel
Originally Published: 

GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: This piece contains explicit descriptions of cow birth, but trust me when I say that though they’re all true, detailed and kind of slidey, reading them is not nearly as bad as BEING 10 FEET AWAY FROM A LIVE COW GIVING BIRTH. So everyone just relax.

Indeed, on purpose, with my own eyes and with a mind toward “experiencing nature” (or whatever nonsense you tell yourself when you’re about to witness something grody for no practical purpose), I recently watched a large cow deliver another smaller but still pretty large cow. I realize that most readers here have either witnessed or starred in the production of another human being, and as of press time I’ve only done the former, but I’m pretty sure the cow version is much funkier. Much.

Why would I do such a thing, you might wonder while sipping a tall glass of milk, a beverage I can’t even look at anymore? First, I live in Indiana, where this takes place like a thousand times a day. You can be literally driving to pick up a pork tenderloin or an Andrew Luck onesie or a wheat thresher, look off to the side of the road and see like 10 or 12 calves being born. You see it in the fields, in movie theaters, at restaurants. Some places even let you assist if you bring your own gloves. Basically you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a birthing cow, and trust me, swinging a dead cat happens way more than you think in Indiana.

So, here’s how this went. There’s a pretty great farm in Indiana called Fair Oaks, which offers tours, activities for kids, fresh chocolate milk basically straight out of the cow, the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever eaten (yeah, I said it, Grandma) and a live cow birthing center. The latter is essentially a small theater, except where the stage should be there’s a large, fluorescent-lit, concrete-walled room containing two makeshift straw beds and two pregnant and concerned-looking cows. It’s pretty much the worst Shakespeare in the Park ever.

I actually found it kind of invasive. I am not a woman, I’m like 80 to 85 percent sure, but I have been around for a few births, and my instinct is that it’s not an event to which the person delivering would request an audience of Midwestern tourists. I felt bad for the cows, just lying there, unaware, wondering what was happening to their cow bodies, why their nether-cow nether-regions were pointed at by out-of-towners wearing overalls and Carhartt shirts.

But it was real. Real, unfiltered, live and gooey, so naturally I had my children with me, because “blah blah miracle of life” or whatever. Happily, the 10-year-old is scientific-minded and inquisitive. At one point he slid over to his 2-year-old brother. “Look, that’s what happened when you were born!” he said, adopting the heightened octave of a preschool teacher. “Except Mom wasn’t a cow.” Mom was happy to know that he made this important distinction.

But all things considered, he took it in stride. “That was pretty cool,” he said after we’d walked out, and I did that thing where I tried to ask what he thought while not asking what I really wanted to ask, which was “How much did that blob dropping out of a cow just scar you, and do I need to worry about you vomiting now or later?” But he was into it. “I like seeing the beginning of a life,” he said brightly, though I suspect he could have done with seeing less of the ending of a cow’s placenta. (The 2-year-old, for his part, stared wild-eyed for a minute, then clapped, then got up and ran around the theater, then shrieked for some orange juice, then punched me in the eye, then took his shoes off and threw a bag of fruit snacks, so you know, pretty average day.)

Yet for all my jokes, the cow kind of didn’t seem to give a damn. I mean, she didn’t look comfortable, and she breathed a little heavy. (I think? I actually don’t know what a cow’s standard breathing pattern is like.) But she didn’t belie any sense of immediacy, certainly no screaming for painkillers, definitely didn’t call any anesthesiologists any names, not that, um, I’ve seen that happen or anything. Just sort of produced a calf, got up, stretched, and, as you do in nature, laid down on some straw for a nap.

Well, eventually it was a nap. First there was an extended period of licking her calf which, I assured the 10-year-old, was something else Mom did not do.

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