Sunday, November 23, 2014

Little suckers

I am sure I have raised over three hundred bottle calves in my time.  There were a couple of years when over fifty of them passed through here.  I had two or three milk cows and, at that time, a bucket milker.  The cows would produce enough milk for half-a-dozen babies, so raising bobby calves gave me something to do with all that milk; I would milk the cows with the milking machine, pour the milk into a bucket, and pour it into half-gallon calf bottles.  If you wonder why I would have so many milk cows, my only answer is that I love Jersey cows, and honestly, back then, I loved milking them.  I especially loved keeping the calves healthy, which is tricky during the first couple of weeks after you acquire them.  They come to a new place with different germs than the ones on the farm where they were born, so their immune system gets a shock.  Scours is the number one problem, but if you get them through that first couple of weeks and do things right, there is no more problem.  

I enjoyed every part of raising calves:  feeding them, watching them learn to eat hay and calf starter (grain), watching them cavort and play, and seeing them grow like crazy.  I went for years with no bottle calves, but in the last few years, I've started raising one or two annually.  

And now for my newest observation about calves, just one of those things that shows you are never too old to learn.

This is the first time I've ever let bobby calves get their milk straight from the cow.  They only get about fifteen minutes with Grace, twice a day, so they don't really get to do a lot of sucking.  Probably not much more than they would get if they were on the bottle.  If you raise calves on a bottle and they are in a pen together, three out of four of them will suck on one another:  They'll suck on ears; navel; immature, almost non-existent, udders; and scrotums.  As soon as that bottle is empty, they look for something to use as a pacifier.  This is a real problem, because some of them will keep doing it when they are put with the herd and are liable to start nursing on a heifer that has never calved.  In the case of my cow Grace, she has one quarter that gives very little milk because a steer, unbeknownst to us, was nursing her while she was pregnant.  When I raised a lot of bobby calves, I housed them in calf hutches with separate pens, which prevented them from acquiring the sucking habit.  

I'm sure this is very boring to city folks, but I'm leading up to something.  Even though my current three calves get no more sucking time than my bottle calves did, they have not shown a desire to suck on anything but Grace's teat.  There is some sort of satisfaction calves get from actually nursing a cow that they don't get from a bottle.  

Things that make me go hmmmm.    


I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

that is a thing that would make you go hmmm...I have lots of those days. Glad your little suckers are getting along so well.

Charade said...

Fascinating, even for a recent rural transplant with one foot still in the city. You write very well, always telling a good story.

Rebecca Howard said...

Interesting. Since we always remove the calves from the cow I've never had the occasion to see if nursing would curb the need to suckle on anything and everything. I am sure you are right, though, a bottle isn't a natural thing and a cow is.
I have seen one stick her head through the fence to suckle a cow after she'd had a bottle.


Hmmmmm, indeed. I find it all so fascinating. I have never been around cows except when I was doing a story on a farmer who raised them, many years ago, when i was a reporter for local paper.

Sister--Three said...

Sister Patsy is at the Hospice Facility at Rogers, AR. I know you care for her and I wanted to share this fact with you. I will not mention it until my Sisters do.

I do look forward to her resting with our Lord in heaven but will miss her so. Of course, she may rebound now that she has good care. She has had an open wound in the abdomen for years. Now, at least she can be pain free in her last days.