"We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependant on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do."
—Wendell Berry

Monday, 28 December 2015

On new calves. Part 1

As you will see from the last post, it is not always sunshine and roses on any farm. Anna was considerably upset at the loss. For several days she wandered the fields calling and looking for her calf. I have been told by a fool in the past that animals do not experience emotions as humans do. I just wish that idiot was here to see this mother in her grief!
In any case nearly two weeks later, and ten days overdue, Bonnie gave birth to a fine strapping bobby calf. He was for reasons best known only to the youngest cloud farmer promptly name "Arthur".
Here is where the trouble started for I had unwittingly left the cows together to provide some small comfort to Anna. Unfortunately Bonnie was a new mother and was reluctant to begin immediately feeding as often happens. The usual remedy for this is time, just leave mother and calf alone and they will get on with it. However having a bereaved mother present and a calf calling for a feed is a bad mix and Anna promptly claimed Arthur as her own! To make matters worse Bonnie appeared reasonably unworried by this. This left us with several problems for Bonnie has a very big udder and as is usual with new cows, small teats. So small in fact that we physically could not milk them with more than a single finger and thumb and this quickly becomes an impossible task, especially when you have a new cow who has no desire to be involved in the whole process. This is usually solved naturally by having an enthusiastic calf suckling and the teats will quickly lengthen. Only then would you attempt to begin hand milking.
Now I will freely admit this mess is entirely of my own making. I should have well and truly known to separate Anna and Bonnie before the birth but failed to do so. Lesson learned. The obvious solution was to obtain another calf, or two, from one of the local dairies and get Bonnie to take them on.
It is unfortunate in this day and age that the milk from the cow is much more valuable than the calf it feeds and so most excess calves are usually shot and dumped the day they are born. Heifers are kept if the herd needs new cows but bobby calves are considered worthless. We were fortunate to quickly find a local dairy who promised us a pair of calves the next morning for $30 each (odd how a calf that was going to be shot and dumped suddenly is worth money isn't it?) but as we were in need I readily accepted.
The next morning my son and I loaded a crate on the back of my ute and we drove over to the dairy as they were finishing the milking. To my delight the owner supplied me with a beautiful pair of heifers, one pure Fresian and one pure Brown Swiss. Apparently they were excess to needs and shooting heifers went against the grain.
So we carried our new calves home and introduced them to the cows. Bonnie had no interest in them at all of course and this is only to be expected. Here is where the arsenal of tricks comes into play to get a cow to accept a strange calf. Rubbing them down with the mothers dung, or better still the afterbirth so they smell like her, locking them up overnight in the dark, fettling the mother with beer and so on.
With an older cow these methods work well but with a new cow the odds are much smaller and when this fails (as it did with Bonnie) you have to go to forced feeding and tie the mother up so the calves can suckle. This involves driving the cow into the stall and roping a leg back so she cannot kick. The calves are then put on the teat. Care must be taken to make sure the calves are not too rough with the teats and that they swap to new teats as each quarter is emptied. The whole process is quite traumatic for all involved until the cow learns to accept it and I received several kicks and a mashed hand in the process. Cows can indeed kick to the side.

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