Cliff and I have a road trip planned for this month, just a couple of days and an overnight (unless weather interferes). This means, of course, that I need to make plans for the cow's udder to be emptied on a regular basis and for all three baby calves' bellies to remain full.
My first thought was this: Early in the morning on the day of our departure, I would turn the cow into the little lot, as always, and let the three calves nurse. Then I would turn the cow and calves out into the larger lot, shut them in there, and they could all nurse at will while we're gone. It's just a couple of days, so they can live without their grain for that length of time.
Livestock being the interesting creatures that they are, I figured I should give this a trial run, because it seems cattle will always do something unexpected if given the chance. This morning after the three calves had taken all of Gracie's milk, I opened the gate to the bigger lot. Normally the cows have access to this lot all the time but the horses can't get through the opening. However, I shut the gate leading out to the big pasture because I didn't want the three calves running through barbed wire or electric fence, and I didn't want the other two cows in with Grace and the calves. The calves have always been in a small area, and when turned into a new and bigger area, they have joyful running-and-bucking fits. This can sometimes lead to disaster.
Last time we went on an overnight trip, the grandson simply turned the cow in with the calves twice a day for me, but he was off work then. This time he'll be working; he gets up by three AM to go to work, and I don't intend to make him get up earlier than that to do chores.
So here I was with the cow and three calves in the big lot. There's an in-ground waterer there, so that's taken care of. The calves, as expected, ran and kicked up their heels until they were exhausted. The cow complained at being shut up in the lot, but that's OK, she'll get over it.
It is a good thing I did a test run, because here's what happened: Her heifer calf, Gypsy, would lie down and chew her cud for an hour or so, then go to Mama and take all the milk she could get. Every time either of the Holsteins went to get some milk, there was none, because Gypsy had taken it all. She's a hog. It may have worked out in the long run, since it's such a short time, but I don't want to have hungry babies on my mind while we're gone.
So I'll go to plan B: I will still let all the calves nurse early in the morning on the day we leave. But then I will let Gypsy and Gracie out into the big lot, locking Moose and Whitey in the smaller lot they always inhabit. I'll leave the boys plenty of grain, having the grandson give them more if they need it in the evening. They have a tub of water with a heater in it to keep it from freezing. Gypsy will get all her mama's milk and hay, but no grain, and her foster brothers will get hay and grain, but no milk. They are all old enough to be weaned at this point, as much grain as they're eating, but the cow has all that milk, and they may as well have it.
I could actually wean the Holsteins and turn Gypsy out with her mom permanently. She is quite capable of handling all the milk without getting sick at this point. However, I learned from Bonnie, may she rest in peace, that a dairy cow's udder can be ruined by an aggressively-sucking calf. So I'll continue as I've been doing.
Which reminds me, we were at the MFA elevator buying feed today and I inquired about the price of milk replacer. It's $45 a bag, and it takes, at the very least, two bags to get a calf to the point of weaning... and that is sooner than I like to wean them. So Gracie has really saved us some money letting the Holsteins nurse along with her daughter. Now that I think about it, though, if it weren't for Gracie I wouldn't be raising the calves. By the time you pay $325 for the babies and then buy $90 worth of milk replacer for each one, then feed them a fifty pounds of grain every couple of weeks until they're five months old, you have a lot invested in them.