Farm Life

by Cowgirl on April 4, 2017 · 0 comments

Calving SeasonIt has been busy around here, and I can’t believe it’s April and three months have passed since my last blog post.  One of my excuses is that it’s calving season, and this year has been especially difficult.  When cattle are involved, there’s always trouble of some sort.  This spring, we have had cows with stillborn babies, cows that needed stitches before and after calving, cows that needed their calf pulled, cows that wouldn’t feed and take care of their babies, and cows that just died, for whatever reason.  We’ve had cows getting out, bulls breaking their round bale feeders, a new bull that is really wild and high headed so we have him penned up with an old cow trying to gentle him and feed him by hand so he learns we are friendly.  Such is life….on a farm.

But some things turn out right, and while you can always find something to complain about, it’s better to look at the good things that have happened.  About a month ago, we had a cow that calved but was just nasty and mean, so much that we could barely get the calf tagged and given its shots, she would charge anyone on foot.  Now, in some cases, that just means the cow is an extra-vigilant mother and is taking special care of her baby so no one harms it.  Not so, for this cow.  She wasn’t feeding her baby, either, and the calf was a little bit dumb and just wasn’t quick enough to nurse such a high-strung cow.

Cow And CalfSo my brother-in-law, who owns the pair, gave the calf colostrum through a stomach tube and hoped for the best.  The next day, he said he didn’t think the calf had nursed, so he gave it more milk through a stomach tube.  So on the third day, a guy with a backhoe was doing some work at the farm, leveling out a berm along the creek, and he said a woman passing by in a car stopped in and told him she had seen a baby calf on the other side of the highway, alone.  We went out and looked for it but didn’t see anything.  So later that day, my brother-in-law went to feed the calf whose mama wasn’t feeding him, and he could not find the calf.  So I was pretty sure the woman had been right, and the baby had to be across the highway.

It was hard to believe a calf would leave the cows, walk under or through the fence, climb up the steep grade to the highway, make it across without becoming roadkill, and then disappear.  The land across the highway is a huge cornfield, that goes on and on for miles.  I went out in my pickup, but then got out and walked, not wanting to drive over the baby if it was lying in the tall grass of the road ditch.  I expected to find it curled up in some grass, as it was a cold, rainy day.  But I found nothing along the highway, in the road ditch, or in the tall grass.  The cornfield was empty as well, as far as I could see.  There was a swamp area a couple hundred yards from the road, with a lot of brush and grass, so I drove along the edge of the field, looking in.  I saw a fallen log that was black colored, and I stopped and looked at it hard.  It was just a log.  But it made me think that the baby could be lying there and I wouldn’t see it.

So I got out of the pickup and walked to the log, which was after all, just a log.  And then I looked over to the right about ten feet and there in the grass was the baby calf, curled up asleep.  She was so little I could pick her up in my arms, so I carried her back and put her in the pickup and took her to the farm and put her in the stall.  My brother-in-law tried feeding her with the bottle but she wouldn’t drink from it, so he fed her with the stomach tube again.  She was alive, but she was sickly, with a runny nose and scours at the other end.  And she didn’t even seem to know how to nurse or try to eat at all.

Bottle CalfThis was around the first of March, and it was cold and raining every day.  So my brother-in-law put the calf in his house in the laundry room and she lived there for her first couple of weeks.  I took over feeding her, because it was a slow and frustrating task and I have the time and patience to do it.  I have come to the opinion that tubing a calf disrupts its natural instincts to suck, and also may possibly scratch or damage its throat, making it resist feeding.  This calf just acted like she hated the bottle, did not want to eat, and fought me every time I fed her.  I had to pin her neck between my knees, force the nipple into her mouth (she would fall backwards away from it, resist taking it, and would barely suck from it at first), and then wait while the milk ran from the nipple into her throat and she would slowly, reluctantly swallow.  She would only take half a bottle at first.  I know the stomach tubing kept her alive for those first three days, but it is pretty hard on a calf and if you get the tube into the windpipe instead of her esophagus, it will drown and die within seconds.

So she had a very slow start.  We got some meds from the vet to help her runny nose and scouring.  She made a complete mess of the laundry room, so cleaning up from that was a lot of work.  After a few days, I brought in a small sized rubber horse tank from the farm, and kept her in that, so the mess wasn’t as hard to clean up.  I would wash the dirty towels she was sleeping on, and put down clean ones at each feeding.  So she survived those first two weeks, snug and warm, and learning how to eat.

When we moved her to the farm, she was stronger and feeling better and getting used to the bottle.  And now, at a month old, she is still in the stall, sleeping in the hay, drinking water from a bucket, and starting on a little feed.  When I drive to the farm to feed her, she hears the sound of my pickup and starts bawling for her bottle.  When I open the stall door she runs to me with her tongue hanging out like a puppy, grabbing her bottle and guzzling it, tail swishing enthusiastically.  I take out two bottles at a time now, because she is eating so much.  And she is growing!

I can’t wait for warmer weather, as I have plans to build her a little portable pen where she can graze grass and be moved to fresh green grass each day.  Then she’ll really start growing.  I remember how little she was, lying hidden in the brush of the swamp.  If I hadn’t found her, she would have died that day of starvation.

So life on a farm isn’t always easy.  It is yucky, dirty, messy….a lot of hard work, and a lot of heartbreak.  You win some, you lose some.  But you keep trying, and you learn a lot along the way.
Baby Calf

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