December was a busy month. We raced against time to get Michael and Carolyn's new house finished before Christmas so they could get moved in before we start calving. It was a photo finish as the carpenters got the inside done the week before Christmas. Lynn got the pump hooked up and working, and the carpet layers finished Dec. 23.

Our son and his family slept there that night. They celebrated Christmas in their new home. Andrea, Jim and little Emily spent Christmas day with us. Em, not quite two years old, enjoyed helping all of us open our presents - when she wasn't busy playing with her new little plastic horses or galloping her new stick horse around the living room.

We've been a little slow getting everything ready for calving. The cows, however, won't wait. At least we got the big barn emptied and bedded with straw before the first calves arrived.

The first ones were not due until January 8 but we moved all the heifers into the maternity ward two days before Christmas to be safe. We also brought the cows to the big holding field Dec. 26, sorting out a few of the earliest calvers on the way by. We have breeding dates on almost all the cows, which really helps when sorting the herd.

We started our night shifts - Jim and Andrea checking the cows until about 2 or 3 a.m. and then I get up and watch them the rest of the night (and get Lynn up to help me if I need to get a cow in or have a problem delivery). It will get a little easier once Michael and Carolyn can help fill in.

The first two calves to arrive were from heifers (calving 7 and 8 days early); one arrived late evening January 2 and the other a few hours later at 2 a.m. Both were born swiftly and easily without help, and nursed quickly.

But the mother of the little bull calf doesn't have much milk. I thawed some colostrum and gave him an extra 11/2 quarts. He's three days old now, and still not getting enough to eat; we are giving him supplemental bottles.

This is an unusual problem, since our crossbred heifers usually milk very well. This big heifer, however, was sired by a Canadian Angus bull we didn't keep very long, since he was a bit wild and also growing much too big. He was also a hard keeper - as a yearling he couldn't keep weight on like our own young bulls we raise on pasture.

We generally try to look at the mother of any bull we buy, since a bull's daughters tend to inherit a lot of her characteristics such as udder shape and milking ability. But we didn't have an opportunity to find out anything about this bull's mother. I'm glad we only kept one daughter from him!

Last night, one of Michael and Carolyn's cows calved - twin heifers. It's the first set of twins they've had in their herd in four years of calving, so they were pretty excited. With help, both calves nursed the cow all right, and she is mothering them both.