This week has been a trying time on deGraan Farms. Bobby and I worked hard to take two bad situations and turn them into good fortune. So far, we have done just that. This is kind of a long, but it is an amazing story!
Bad Situation number 1:
Meet Nubs. She got her name when she was born on our farm about 7 years ago on a cold morning in February. It was so cold, her long ears got frost bit and turned to nubs. She grew up to be one of our top herd cows. She has raised a big calf for us every year since she matured. This year, she gave birth to a smaller than usual black baldy calf. Nubs cleaned it up, nursed it and took good care of it. We tagged the calf as we always do, gave it a once over for health, and watched it for three days. The calf looked ok, a little droopy, but it was up walking or nursing every time we saw it for those three days. There was no reason to think anything was wrong with the calf. Then on the fourth morning of the calf’s life, we found it in the pasture with Nubs standing over it, lifeless. Bobby and I were so troubled by finding the calf that just the evening before was walking around the pasture. There were no signs of a struggle of any kind. It just peacefully, yet lifelessly lay next to Nubs. So we take the calf from Nubs, which disturbs her deeply. She walked from calf to calf within the herd smelling for her calf. It was a sad sight.
Bad Situation number 2:
Meet the abandoned calf. He was born in another herd of ours the same day we found Nubs’ lifeless calf. The abandoned calf had the misfortune of being the first born of a set of twins. Sometimes, when a cow has twins, the mother will take both the calves. But other times, they clean up the first twin and it nurses. Then when she feels the next one coming, she walks off to give birth to the second twin. Then the cow cleans up the second twin and forgets about the first twin. This is what happened to this abandoned calf. Bobby saw it in the evening. He found it lying by itself, so he brought it to the other cows. None of the cows wanted anything to do with it. Since the cow with a newborn calf was the only cow that showed any signs of giving birth, we deducted that it was her twin. The next morning, we found the abandoned calf walking throughout the other cows trying to find breakfast. Of course, no cow would let the poor thing nurse. We took it to its real mama, but she kicked it off and butted it away as she tended to her other twin. So we took the abandoned calf back to the barn. Raising an abandoned calf on a bottle is not ideal for the health of the calf. It is better for a calf to be raised by a cow.
Mending the Situation:
Bobby is a brilliant herdsman! Not only does he have a higher education in Animal Science, but he also has a tremendous hands-on knowledge of cattle from working on a large cow farm during his adolescent and teen years. The solution he had is a trick we have tried before with about a 50% success rate. He never learned this trick through his Higher Education. It was an old cow trick from a long time farmer.
Before I explain what trick we used, let me tell you why you cannot just put any abandoned calf with any mama cow. The problem is a mama knows her real baby. A mama cow bonds with her baby by smell and taste. If a calf tries to nurse a cow that is not its mama, then she will butt or kick it off because it does not smell or taste like her calf. You will see mama cows lick and nudge her real calf. She will lick the calf’s butt while it nurses as will.
So here is what we did. We skinned the hide off Nubs’ calf that passed away. The hide was then caped and tied onto the abandoned calf with hay twine. We lured Nubs into a catch pen. We put the abandoned calf with Nubs’ baby’s hide draped over it in the catch pen with her. This way she did not have a large pasture to try to walk away with the calf. If the calf has not bonded with her, it might not keep up with her. So we keep them both up in a smaller pen to bond like a real mama and real baby pair. She was excited! She sniffed it vibrantly. She softly mooed at it as she sniffed it. The calf was hesitant to try to nurse because it had been kicked off by the other herd that morning.
In fact, we checked on it after about an hour, and the calf was still walking away from her. She loved it, but it was scared of her. So Bobby got a bottle and gave the calf some milk to give it a reason to try to hunt for milk. Nubs was not happy that Bobby had the calf. This was exciting to us since that means she smelled her baby on the abandoned calf. He drank a little from the bottle, popped off the bottle, turned to Nubs, and started nursing her. SUCCESS!
She mooed and licked its butt as it nursed. The next morning the calf was bouncing around with Nubs in the pen. She was letting it nurse and mooing at it. We could not be more thrilled! We will keep the two up in the catch pen for a couple of days. The hide will stay on the abandoned calf for a few more days. Sometimes we will slowly cut pieces off the hide over a week’s time. This allows the abandoned calf’s smell to take over. Since Nubs is not a gentle cow that is easy to deal with, we will probably take it off all at once.
As many of you know, we home school our boys. They were with us in every step of this process, from tagging Nubs’ calf to observing the new pair for bonding. The morning we skinned and caped the calf, we were supposed to be doing school lessons. Our boys were so interested in what we were doing; there was no way I was going to get them inside to learn 9×9 or how to spell “each.” So, we just took that as a lesson for the day. Their assignment was to observe Nubs and the abandoned calf every few hours to see if they were close to each other or separated. To check if they were nursing or pacing the fence lines. Then they had to report back their findings.
The abandoned calf is now Nubs’ adopted calf. We will tag it with “Nubs” written on the tag giving it an identity. God timed it just perfect that a twin would be born the same day a weaker calf perished. His hand was in the pairing of a motherly cow to a strong willed abandoned calf. As I said, we have had about a 50% success rate with this trick. You have to have a strong calf and a willing mama cow. We are really thankful for the perfect Christmas time pairing.