I’ve been really busy the last three days. Four days ago we lost a calf. One of our herefords’ calves was stillborn, and it’s a real shame because the calf really would have been something—a purebred hereford bull calf. But for some reason or other, he didn’t make it through the birth process. So we went to the cattle auction to try to find a replacement calf to graft onto the cow since her milk was still good. I had seen my dad do this many times, and figured our chances were pretty decent, since this particular cow is Dorothy’s mother, and is very gentle and easy to handle.
We got to the auction early to look over the calf lots. There were only four little baby calves, one big black whiteface, two puny all-black calves, and one little red heifer calf. Our six year old daughter looked at the red heifer and said, “Let’s buy that one, because it’s unique.” We bid on her and no one else did, so it was pretty clear she was meant to be ours, and the kids named her Uniqua. We loaded her into the back of our pickup and I rode in the back with her so she didn’t fall down or get hurt. She sniffed my hand, turned around a couple of times, and then laid down.
When we got her to the farm, we put the cow in the chute pen, which is very small, just big enough for a cow to turn around. We fed the cow some corn, tied her with a lariat rope around her neck to the nearest strong post, and put another lariat on her back leg and tied it to an opposite post. She still tried to kick when the calf first started to nurse, and kicked until the rope fell off her foot. But when we got the calf into position to nurse again, the cow didn’t kick, and she let the calf nurse for about fifteen minutes.
The next morning was Sunday morning, and Cowboy Dad and I went out before church to try again. This time we just put her in the horse stall and used a fence panel to move her into the corner. While she ate her corn, she allowed little Uniqua to nurse again. But as soon as her corn was devoured, she was on the move, turning circles in the stall and threatening to jump over the panel, so I let her out. When I put her back in her corral, she paced the fence and wanted back out in the cornfield with her pasture mates.
For the next two days, I went out to rouse the baby, who was always sleeping in the hay, and get her up to the cow. If I didn’t stand there and face her off, the cow would let the calf start to nurse, but then would walk away to pace the fence again. So I started holding a pitchfork in front of her face and stopping her every time she started to move. This let the calf get most of a good meal anyway, but the cow was becoming more and more irritated with me.
Then this morning, the cow was gone. She had gotten the corral gate open and was out with the rest of the cows. I woke up baby Uniqua and walked her out to find her mother. Her mother was about as far away as she could get, grazing the green grass that’s started coming up around the edges of the cornfield. But when I headed her towards the corral, she knew what was going on. She went mooing to her baby, and let her nurse. But again, I had to stand in front of her with my sorting stick to make her stand still.
After lunch I went back out again to see what was going on. It has rained for two days, and the whole field is a muddy mess, so I didn’t want to drive out to find her for fear of getting stuck, so I walked. I found the herd of cows with their faces buried in a spread out line of hay, their babies sleeping nearby, and everything seemed peaceful. But my hereford cow was nowhere to be found.
I found her in the trees, across a steep ravine with a creek running through it, grazing grass on the far side. I didn’t know where her baby was, but I figured that she would know, because cows are good at that. So I just went over there, crossed the creek on my fallen tree bridge, and drove her back to the cow herd. Sure enough, before we even got out of the trees, I saw a little red speck stand up out of the hay. Uniqua had woken up and was looking for her mom.
The cow made a straight line for her, mooing as she went. When we reached the herd, Uniqua went to nursing, and the cow stood still. I was thrilled, even though the rain had soaked through my clothes and I had walked a half mile in my uncomfortable muck boots. I think the cow is showing really good signs of adopting the calf as her own, and so my work is almost over. I’ll check on her again tomorrow, but hopefully this project was a success.