The Farmer Midwife

DSC_0600 e2Birthing season is a busy time for the farmers at Frying Pan Farm Park. Spring can bring calves, six kids (baby goats), 10 lambs, 20 or more piglets, and chicks and poults (baby turkeys). Here’s some Q-and-A about birthing season from Frying Pan’s park specialist and farmer, Paul Nicholson.

When do you know a birth is starting?

Staff pay attention to several details to know when to expect a birth. The most helpful is to know when the pregnancy started. We plan most of the breeding at the farm, but there’s still a window of a week or two for some animals. A veterinarian conducts an ultrasound between 30 and 60 days after breeding to confirm a pregnancy, to make sure our males are fertile, and to help adjust the diet of the pregnant animal. Most animals go through physical changes with their udder swelling with new milk and other parts relaxing right before birth. Herd animals usually separate themselves to a quiet maternity corner of the field. Other animals become nervous the day of the big event, scratching at the ground, appearing uncomfortable, and rising and laying down for a few hours before the actual birth takes place. Farm staff and our night maintenance staff check on the expectant mothers a few times each night, as often as every two hours if needed. Livestock are born any hour of the day or night, and farmers have seen many full moons turn into sunrises during deliveries and while waiting for the newborn to nurse. And sometimes you show up in the morning and you find a newborn!

How safe is a farm birth?

Baby Animals 0413_0277Livestock at the park are used to people, and this helps during the birthing process. We can move the animal to a stall if needed, either to keep out of mud, or to cool or heat the mother, and we have a new shed that has smaller stalls for sows to deliver their piglets. This helps to protect the tiny piglets from being crushed by the larger sow and to protect the farmer, as some sows can become aggressive during the process.

What can the baby animal do at birth – and a few hours later?

Farm animals are responsive right at birth, with most being able to walk in the first 30 minutes to one hour. The first milk is called colostrum and has important antibodies that the newborn animals need to get started in life. They must drink as soon as they can stand and for the first 12 to 24 hours. After that, they rely on just regular milk from the mother.

What does the farmer do during the birth? Is he like a dad with ice chips saying “Push, honey?”

The farmer working the birth has many jobs. Safety of the mother, newborn, staff and the public are the most important. Location of the birth, field or stall conditions, and temperature are all factors to think about. Depending on the situation, staff will assist with drying the baby and keeping the mother interested in her newborn. If needed, staff will assist with the birth by either repositioning or pulling to get the baby delivered. When there are multiple babies, sometimes a mother forgets to clean the first one and we will help her. Staff watches for signs of distress from the mother or newborn, and staff has access to several veterinarians or other farmers to ask questions. A vet could come to the farm if needed for a problem. And, just like human births, farmers text friends and coworkers to tell them the big news.

What do the farmer and the animals do immediately after the birth?

Baby Animals 0413_0009After the birth, staff assure mother and baby are bonding and assist with drying off as needed. Observing while interfering the least is the best approach. At the one-hour mark, if the newborn is not standing or trying to nurse, staff can intervene by holding the baby up and holding the mother still to allow the baby to latch on or, if needed, feed the baby by a stomach feeder to make sure it receives the colostrum in a timely manner.

What are staff members watching for?

We are watching to make sure the birthing process is progressing. Typically, less than one hour after we see feet, the baby should be born in cattle, sheep or goats. The pig farrowing process can take several hours to deliver up to 12 or 14 piglets, but she should deliver a piglet every 30 minutes to one hour. You can look at the feet to determine if the baby is upside down or backwards and take action as needed to correct the problem. Piglets are the exception and can be born backwards or forwards with no issues.

Are the animals comfortable with people around? Are the moms protective?

DSC_0551Some mothers, after the birth, are not comfortable with us touching their baby. One sheep named Stompy will do just that — stomp her front foot in anger if you get too close during birthing season. I have also seen a cow with a newborn calf charge a fence when a dog walked by.

How long before the public can see a newborn?

baby-animals-0413_0052-e1554297797603.jpgIt all depends on when and where the birth takes place. We have had numerous births occur during the day with a large crowd on hand or a few times during evening programs. If the mother and farm staff are comfortable with the process, the visitors can watch the birthing. We try to answer questions and explain what is happening. If we do need to give the mother a quiet space, the public would be invited to see the newborn once everything calms down.

A successful birth means family income/table fare.

dsc_0637.jpgSuccessful births are important for many reasons. The public side is that everyone is expecting to see a barn full of healthy and happy newborns. The farming side wants to see a full barn of newborns and happy mothers that will raise and wean strong offspring. Some of the babies will remain at the farm and become mothers in the next year or two. The income from new animals was very important, especially during the 1930s, the time frame that Frying Pan re-creates. The farm today sells livestock to 4H clubs in Loudoun, Fauquier and other local counties, and the clubs rely on us for their project animals each year. A farm is a business, and if the farmer lost most of his newborns, the farm would not survive.

Frying Pan Farm Park has a birthing announcement web page at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/frying-pan-park/arrivals.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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