Sunday, November 01, 2015

Adventures in calf-raising

Yesterday, finally, Heins Dairy had a couple of bull calves available.  When we got there, they had three calves for the taking, but one was a freemartin heifer.  Click HERE to learn about freemartins.  Anyhow, there was one bull calf that was a single birth, and then a small bull and heifer that were twins.  Even the single bull calf wasn't as large as I would like, and both twins were small, especially the heifer.  Beggars can't be choosers, and I would have chosen the bull twin until I was told the heifer would be $50 cheaper.  I didn't realize until it was too late that she had pretty loose bowels, but I'm sure I'll get her over that.  Those people take good care of their calves, and I've never had one get really sick.

Of course my intention is to get these calves nursing Grace alongside her daughter, and before long I won't have to milk at all.  They'll be able to handle however much milk she gives.  

Holstein calves have always seemed to me a little less smart than other calves, so sometimes it's an effort to get them to nurse a cow.  These two took the cake!  Their noses might brush up against a teat, but both of them would pass right by and try sucking on the cow's dewlap or elbow instead.  If I tried sticking my hand down there to try and guide either of them to the proper source, they'd follow my hand away rather than grab the teat I was trying to stick in their mouths.  Grace got tired of all this going on beneath her belly, kicked over the bucket of milk (I was going to pour out the extra anyhow) and pooped a couple of times.  That's what nervous cows do, they poop.  And sometimes pee.  

There are millions of Holsteins in the world.  If you buy dairy products at the grocery store, those almost surely came from a Holstein cow.  Dairymen breed their animals for one thing:  milk production and any attribute, like udder shape and placement or body type, associated with that.  I think in concentrating on this one goal, some old instincts have fallen along the wayside, resulting in cattle that are stupid.  This, by the way, doesn't matter to a dairyman.  All he needs a cow to learn is to come in with the herd and be milked; that's her only job in life... that, and have a calf once a year, but that's pretty much taken care of for her.  She doesn't even have to be a good mother.  In fact, the less she worries about her baby, the quicker she'll settle in to the milking routine.

I often raise Jersey/Holstein cross calves, which is how I acquired Grace, Hope, and the cow I recently sold, Penny.  None of those animals, as calves, seemed dull-witted to me, nor did the males I raised as steers.  It's only the pure Holsteins I get from the local dairy that are slow at figuring things out.  

Digressing a bit, I remember in the fifties that Angus cattle were called "the mother breed", I assume because they were excellent mothers.  But then all the beef breeds seem to make good mothers.  It's necessary!  They aren't in a barn being watched twenty-four hours a day; they need to be able to fend for themselves.  Several years ago we had three Limousin cows.  One of them had just given birth to twins and I walked up to one of the calves, bent over, and lifted a back leg to see what sex it was, like I was used to doing with the calves my Jerseys gave birth to.  That cow knocked me down the hill so fast I hardly knew what hit me.  A farmer later told me that Limousin cows are all like that, even the ones his kids had raised to show at the fair.  "You don't bother their calves," he said.  

Yeah, I noticed that.  

Back to my new calves.  Last night I ended up giving both of them their milk from a bottle; thank goodness I was able to get enough, after Grace spilled most of it early on.  They weren't even all that great at figuring out the bottle.  I had to straddle the little heifer and hold her still and keep sticking the bottle back in her mouth when she let go.  Oh, she was plenty hungry, she just didn't have the good sense to keep holding onto the bottle.  

This morning, I had success, probably because I'm a morning person and have more patience early in the day.  The bull calf managed to take the contents of one quarter all by himself, so he got a half-gallon or so.  I sort of lost patience with the little heifer and went ahead and mostly milked the cow, then brought the heifer back in.  She had success, finally, losing the teat several times but finding it again, even switching to another one and sucking away; I also gave her a little milk from the bottle, but didn't want her to have too much until I know her bowels are normal.  I think by tomorrow they will have the art of nursing a cow down pat, something calves of other breeds are born knowing.  

Meanwhile, Grace seems very anxious to get better acquainted with the new babies.  When they are in the barn bawling from hunger, she is lowing outside the door in that language you only hear from a mother cow.  

1 comment:

Lori said...

Once again I have something new from reading your blog. (Actually several somethings new!) I have a newborn kitten that is difficult to bottle feed, but after reading this, I'll count myself lucky that it isn't a difficult calf. At least I don't have to straddle the kitten!