To celebrate our 500th post on BigShotsNow we are republishing some of our more popular posts. This post first appeared on April 4 2013. If you have any suggestions of previous posts you’d like to see again drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try and honor that request. Clicking on each of the images will enlarge them so the detail is clearer.
Buffalo are a lot like other creatures that have babies, they’re just bigger is all, and because they are bigger you can’t always tell that they’re pregnant. Such was the case with this young cow that was soon to be a mother.
Whenever I go to Yellowstone, as a creature of habit I have a tradition, or ritual, OK an obsession, where my very first picture has to be of a buffalo. They are the icon for me that represents Yellowstone and all the creatures and natural wonders that makes the park the unique place it is and what draws me back there year after year. As I entered the park from the western entrance and drove along the Madison river watching the herds I noticed a grouping of cows within but slightly separate from the main herd. I pulled off the road, got out and casually ran my lens over the slowly milling animals looking for one that might be my opening shot.
Suddenly, without warning, the young cow near the center of the picture began to spin around and out popped a calf. It flew through the air and landed on the ground with a thud. The cows who seemed to be acting as mid-wives and had been keeping an eye on this expectant mother all stood stock still. I stood stock still. It could not have been more unexpected or had any greater impact on me had it happened at Westminster cathedral.
I looked around at the other people standing near me and none of them had seen this. All of the tourists who had jumped off the newly arrived bus, both foreign and domestic had not seen this.The miracle of birth that had just thudded to the ground in a wet pile went unnoticed by everyone but me and the buffalo mid-wives and fortunately I was the only one of the group who had a camera.
It appears by her size and uncertainty that this may well have been this cows first calf. Buffalo breed when they are two years old and have their first calves when they are three. Instinct has taken over and she knows what to do, she just isn’t quite sure how to do it.
Another even younger cow comes over trying to make sense of all this but just gets in the way confusing this new mother even more. First item of business is to get rid of the afterbirth which she handles very well and before long the brand new calf is clean as a whistle.
Next on the agenda is to get him up so he can nurse and learn who his mother is. She is having a little trouble with this part and can’t quite figure out how to do it and winds up rolling him over several times.
More of the older cows arrive and start to check out the new addition. The new mom is off to the left of the calf lying on the ground.
Seeing the new calf struggling to get up brings more of the older cows nearer while the new mom still appears be bewildered by events. She hasn’t taken charge of the situation yet and looks on more as a spectator rather than the main participant.
It is a struggle, to be sure, to find your footing when you don’t know how to do anything yet. His legs aren’t doing what he wants and he keeps falling over. At the top of the image a large older cow arrives and takes charge of what is rapidly becoming a chaotic situation.
Meanwhile life goes on in the herd. Two bulls decide this meadow isn’t big enough for the both of them and attempt to settle things just a few feet away from the struggling new calf. In the background several elk cows are fording the Madison and up on the road the tourists are boarding their bus to go on to the next sight.
More and more exhausted the young calf still struggles to get up. He needs to nurse to replace the lost energy spent coming into the world. The midwife greets the new arrival
And with a few nudges quickly helps him to his feet. He mistakenly thinks she is mom but with several more gentle pushes she redirects him to his own mother and nature begins to take it’s course. His mother is standing directly behind the mature cow and you can see the difference in their sizes, as the new mother is almost invisible behind the larger cow.
He quickly heads in the right direction and finding her is soon nursing. The midwife cow has her own calf to feed but she sticks around a little longer to make sure that everything is working right for the mother.
As soon as he has drunk his fill the totally exhausted calf and the brand new mother take a much needed rest. The entire episode, from when the calf hit the ground until this first nap, was almost exactly fifteen minutes according to the time stamp on my camera. It doesn’t take long to get born in the Yellowstone.