Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On the wrong side of the odds

It seems like the past couple weeks were one big run of bad luck — rained on hay, sick cows, you name it.

Two of our unlucky events really stung:

The first stroke of bad luck involved Dancer, a heifer we'd been trying to get bred who wasn't showing heats. She'd been bred a couple times, but her pregnancy test back open after the last service. So, Glen started Dancer and two other heifers who were falling behind schedule on a synch program. All three heifers came into heat, just like they should. When Glen was breeding Dancer, though, her uterus didn't feel right.

The next morning, the neighbor who houses our breeding-age heifers called to say Dancer was still standing, so we decided to breed her again. This time, when Glen palpated her, he found placental membranes.

So, Dancer had been pregnant the whole time we were fretting about her not being bred. The bioPRYN test we use to check for most pregnancies has a very low margin of error in detecting open animals (from the fine print on the test — if a sample's result falls in the open range, 99.9% of animals are not pregnant in confirmatory testing). But, Dancer proved that false negatives do occur.

We were reminded of a bit of advice from our former farm business management instructor: Never give a dose of prostaglandin to a cow or heifer with a previous service unless you are 100% sure she's open.

Bitsy, a cow of ours, delivered the second stoke of bad luck. To start, the calf she was trying to deliver presented with its head turned backward. Since she was bred using a unit of sexed semen, our anxiety level was a wee bit elevated while we worked to get the calf out. Upon delivery of a live calf, the situation went from bad to worse. It was a bull calf. Our very first sexed semen bull calf (out of 14 calves).

Glen was seriously bummed. We haven't used very much sexed semen in the past 18 months, and we've only had 15 heifer calves out of 45 calvings so far this year, so Glen was really looking forward to this heifer calf. Plus, this was the only conception out of that half-rack of semen, making it, as Glen said, "the most expensive bull calf ever." What's even worse, is that in five lactations now, this was only Bitsy's second bull calf. We might have had better luck just using conventional semen.

After moping around for awhile, though, Glen said that these two events weren't really bad luck, instead they were simply part of the odds. 99.9% of the time, Dancer really would have been open. And 95% of the time, Bitsy's calf would have been a heifer. We were just on the wrong side of the odds.

I still think it was bad luck. But I do think our luck is changing. Why?

This morning I was walking out of the house when a strange car pulled into the yard. An unfamiliar man stepped out of the car and asked me, "Is your dad around?"

"Are you looking for Glen?" I asked.

"Yeah," the man replied.

It made my day. (Maybe even my week.)

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