I often wait for the birth of a new calf with wonder. We tend to keep our calves around for a while, and many of them are bottle fed, and it never ceases to amaze me how different each calf is in personality. As our cows are staggered to calve throughout the year, there seems to always be a new calf just around the corner. The case this summer was going to be my first Jersey calving. I have heard horror stories of Jersey cows and their propensity for milk fever and the lack of stamina in the calves from these small cows. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to this calf, and was seriously considering selling it at a couple of days old (after it had had it’s colostrum) as a bottle baby.
The day that Hazel decided to calve, I knew she was pretty close, I saw her acting funny in the morning and by the late morning I was headed off to a doctor appointment of my own but I knew that there would likely be a calf when I got back. But, no, when I returned, she was still laboring away, and two hours later, she’d been working at pushing for a while with no real progress. I grabbed my OB straps and a halter and went out to see if I could help out. Of course, the calf was in an odd position and I was not in a position to right it, so for the first time ever, I rang up my vet and asked him if he had anything to do that afternoon. He came right over and we got the calf righted and started to pull. He hadn’t felt any movement and I feared that in fact the calf was not going to survive the birth. As soon as we got his head out he started bawling before we even managed to pull the rest of him. I was glad to see the signs of life! He slopped out onto the fresh, green grass and I untied his mama so she could investigate and take care of him. Alas, she is Jersey, and she took one look at her wet bundle and walked off in the opposite direction to eat grass.
Great! Try as I might, she really wasn’t interested in him, but he was a strong sucker and he got up and followed her around and managed to get a good nursing in before he collapsed in the corner of the shed exhausted from his journey. I locked his mama in with him, but she was not to be convinced that she wanted anything to do with him. The next morning, he clearly couldn’t nurse and was having trouble standing. You see, the calf is a Jersey/Angus cross. The calf should have weighed about 45 pounds, but instead he topped 60 pounds, so he was pretty good sized. Being cramped up in there for so long sometimes makes them have trouble coming out and when they do come out they can’t stand up well or suck. He for sure was having those problems, and due to the fact that mama didn’t want him, I decided that I would take on the roll as his mama. Jared and I picked him up and brought him out and put him on the front lawn where he would get lots of attention as we came and go, and I started to try to feed him. Because he was suffering from Big Calf Syndrom, he really wasn’t able to suck and I made the decision I was going to tube feed him directly into his stomach. I HATE doing that more than anything, and I put it off as long as I could. As soon as I got the equipment ready, I asked for Jared to help and we went out to where he was on the lawn only to find that he was missing. I looked all over for him only to discover that he had decided that he liked the kids’ pumpkin garden as a spot to sleep and he was curled up under the biggest squash leaves he could find. An ample hiding spot for a little calf for sure, and after I got his belly full, he settled in for the night in the garden of his choice.
The next several days found him wandering around the farm courtyard trying to find a place to lay down while I went out diligently and tube fed him. At this point, I was letting him try to nurse from his mom as well, which he was doing reasonably well. Since she didn’t want to have anything to do with him, I tried tying up my most tame and gentle cow, Fancee, and let her try playing foster mom. He was happy to get a few sneaks of milk here and there, but Fancee really wasn’t in the mothering mood either!
Finally, he started being able to suck a bottle, and so he was grateful whenever I would show up at his side with a magical bottle full of milk for his belly. As soon as he got a fully belly, the mischief started. He knew the property boundaries and was scared of the road, so there really was no reason to put him in a pen, so I left him out. It was always a mystery where he would wind up next. The second someone would appear from the house, he would end up at their side wondering what they were up to and asking to be scratched. Eventually, I weaned my goat kids from their moms, but the moms were not ready to dry up their milk yet, so I started getting the goats out in the afternoon to let the calf have a nurse from the goats. He, even though he is bigger than them, walks up, drinks his fill and then moves on to the next goat until they are both empty. When he sees a new animal he hasn’t encountered before, he lines up as though he is going to nurse it. It reminds me of that book, “Are You My Mother?” Truthfully, everyone on the farm was becoming the calf’s mother. If ever he disappears, all you have to do is go look in another garden spot, and you will find Baloo curled up and asleep among the Wisteria or the Impatiens.
When there are no people to keep him company, you can look out the window and find him trying to start a bull fight with the posts of the barn or the tree. He runs around them and butts at them from all sides expecting them to play back. If that bores him, he races back and forth from one end of the property to the other.
I recently told my husband that if I ever ask for another dog that he should just buy me a cow, and I think I may have got my wish. This little calf, has so much personality, it is a riot. He is my morning chore helper and goes almost everywhere I go. He stands on the front porch of the house looking into the kitchen waiting for me to come out, and if my chores take me to the creamery, he stands outside the door or window and mooes at me until I return. I am not allowed to walk past him without giving him a thorough scratching, and if he is hungry, he will not hold back on butting me in the bum to see if perhaps I might let down some milk for him.
He now has a regular spot laying down in the rocks in front of the creamery because he knows that if someone comes to get milk that they will likely stop by to give him a good scratching on their way back to their car. Just this evening, after he discovered that I had let the cows out into the pasture, he decided he was going to go have a nap under the Mulberry tree where he could see at equal distance, the cows that he feels slightly connected and his real mother who had gone into the house for the night.
I had the vet out breeding cows recently and I was telling him my tale of woe about the calf that acts like a dog. “Where does he get so much personality?” I was questioning. After all, the vet had bred the cow for me with semen from his own personal AI tank. It was at that point that he admitted to me that he had selected some semen recently from some stock that was known to have some extreme personality.
The thing about this farming life is that you expect something to be a pain or a bore or a drag and sometimes you end up with a cross-breed calf that identifies more with being the family guard dog and it is moments like that that make me smile and know that I truly have chosen the right path in life.