Monday, January 04, 2016

My newest project

Luna has been around for a couple of months, ever since her mother gave birth to her.  However, once Grace and the two Holstein calves she adopted went to their new home, she immediately became a project... and a bit of a problem.

This is nothing unexpected.  I knew it would happen.  Luna hasn't been handled by humans at all; she has run with her step-sister and -brother, nursed from mama when she got hungry, and enjoyed life.  The two Holsteins, getting the same treatment, were never really that scared of people.  But Luna was as wild as a March hare.

We had no problems getting the three animals I sold into the barn, and I was able to shut the door on them before Luna joined them; away the family went to their new home, leaving our wild baby girl alone in the small lot behind our barn.  Hope, the soon-to-be yearling heifer, was out in the big lot across the fence from her.

I really hate to wean Luna at two months of age.  The last calf I weaned that early, a steer, ended up ugly and pot-gutted, and I hate to see this classy little heifer turn out like that.  Unfortunately, the chances of getting a calf of that age to take milk replacer are slim to none.  Yesterday evening I took some out in a bucket thinking that if nothing else, the calf's thirst would make her try the stuff.  No dice.  Not only that, but I couldn't get within ten yards of her.  I needed her in a smaller space.  

This morning I got up at three, after sleeping sporadically during the night.  After drinking coffee for a couple of hours I bundled up and stepped outside.  I shone the flashlight beam around the little lot as I stood on the porch, and realized the calf must be in the horse stall, which we had left open for her.  Maybe I could sneak out and shut the door!  That would put her in a much smaller place where I could work on gentling her down.

No dice.  The snow thawed some and then froze back, creating a crust on top that crunches so loud when you walk through it that there was no way to sneak.  The calf came frantically out of the stall, bawling.  

I opened the door to the milking room of the barn and fastened it back, thinking maybe Luna would go in there out of curiosity.  Came inside to give her time.  Went back out, going the long way around so maybe she wouldn't hear me coming.  Sneaked to the front of the barn, only to have her look through the barn from her spot in the back lot and bawl piteously for her mom.  

It finally occurred to me to put the big tame heifer, Hope, in the barn.  I gave her some feed in a pan, left the back door open, and Luna was in like a flash, happy to see someone she knew and trusted.  I shut the door, let Hope out a side door, and Luna was contained in the barn.  It's a bigger area than I'd like, but there she is.

Notice Mama Kitty hiding from this terrorist in her domain
  I spent the better part of an hour just sitting on a stool talking to her and then walking around with her, talking.  I finally got to the point that I could rub and pet her all over, and I've been back out a couple of times to check on her.

I have very little hope of this calf ever taking milk replacer.  I'm keeping her away from water until this evening, hoping that if she gets thirsty enough she will drink milk replacer from a bucket and find out she likes it.  After that, I 'll forget trying to make her take milk and just keep water out for her.  She'll probably start eating plenty of calf starter once she figures out she's going to starve to death otherwise.  I may sprinkle some dry milk replacer over it, for what good that will do.

There was a time I would have gotten this heifer in a corner, straddled her neck with she and I facing the same direction, and stuck the nipple of a calf bottle full of warm milk replacer in her mouth; these days I wouldn't even attempt to overpower a calf this size.  Even if I could, I'm not sure she'd take it, but it would have been more likely than any of my options.  Years ago when I was raising calves, Steve Gates sold me a calf whose mother had died.  The calf was at least six weeks old.  I stuck him in a hutch, which enclosed him in a small space so I could wrestle him.  He was pretty wily.  I would stick a bottle in his mouth but he refused, every time.  Finally I got the tube-feeder and gave him his milk replacer that way.  I thought after a couple of times he'd take the bottle, but no.  For the next six weeks or so, I tube-fed that great big calf.  Not only that, he'd be waiting anxiously for his meal just like the other calves, but I had to climb in the pen with him, straddle him, and stick the tube down his throat to force-feed him.  At least he stopped fighting me, so it wasn't difficult any more.  I kept offering him a bottle occasionally, but he never would take it.  

So we'll see where this adventure leads.


Sister--Three said...

She is a beautiful calf. You may not get her to take the bottle but you'll have her gentler in no time.

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

Poor baby, hope she takes the milk replacer soon. Poor you, wrestling with a calf would not be a good thing at all.

Lori said...

I didn't know calves could be so stubborn! I hope she will drink the milk replacer for you.