"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 2

So a couple of weeks in to the whole forced milking and things have settled down a bit. Bonnies teats are now of a (barely) milk-able size by hand and we have taken over the milking duties twice a day. This milk is then fed to the two new calves- the Brown Swiss "Jessie the second" and the Fresian "Lilly". For this we use a calf feeder which is essentially a pair of joined buckets with rubber teats. It has been christened the "Robo-Cow" by the youngest cloud farmer. We are doing this as it is important we continue training Bonnie to be milked. The calves love it and engage in considerable pushing and shoving as they drink. To prevent one calf pushing the other off the teat we have someone position themselves between the two. We call this doing "bum duty". This job usually falls to the youngest cloud farmer as the adults have their hands full.

It is quite a wrestling match most days.
Now things take a turn for the weird. Anna, who had forcibly adopted Bonnies calf Arthur, handed him back to his mother who has accepted him and is allowing him to drink without too many kicks to the head. He also goes back to Anna for a drink as well.
So we lost a calf and have gained three. Arthur is a Brown Swiss-Dexter and will be a superb meat steer in a few years time. The two heifers will be sold as weaners and should fetch a good price. I am spraying each calf with pyrethrum daily to prevent a repeat of the original tragedy and it appears we are having a bad year for ticks- there are an awful lot about this year.
So that was our Christmas this year. Pretty standard on the Cloud farm. Cheers.

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.

Goodbye little Jessie

I am very sad to report that a week after she was born, little Jessie has died. A few days after her birth I noticed she was walking a little stiffly. I checked her over to find three large paralysis ticks in her fur. They could not have been on her for long as I had checked her and given her a spray down with pyrethrum just a day before. Unfortunately the ticks must still have had enough time to inject sufficient venom to kill a small calf. After trying everything I could I was forced to put her down three days later.