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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No bull

Our traditional New Year’s Eve gathering involves inviting some neighbours and friends over for a hearty dinner and a rousing game of Cranium. Two of our friends who attended this year happen to be beef farmers. According to them, it’s time we weaned our bull calf.
Tyson is not going to be happy about this.
The Farmer and I discussed the situation. Obviously, the calves (we have one male and one female) have to be weaned at some point. We had thought we would ship the bull calf off to the sale barn by November, but when the time came to send him out, I just couldn’t do it. He looked so happy there with his mother, and he was developing such a personality.
Of course, his rapidly increasing girth will be a problem when his attitude becomes less calf-like and more “bullish”. No, I’m not sure if that’s a word. Already he runs through the barn, in the front door and out the back, kicking his heels up behind him when he’s excited. This is going to cause a fair amount of damage to the barn – and the sheep – when and if he ever comes in contact with them.
Then there’s the matter of his mother. Big Betty is supposed to be pregnant again. The technician from EBI was fairly certain she was fertile when he paid us a visit in late summer. If Betty is nursing a calf, fighting the cold and eating moldy hay (it rained a lot this summer – our hay sucks) while pregnant, she may not be getting all the nutrients she needs to produce a healthy calf in the spring.
But what to do with the calf? Are we supposed to put him in his own pen for a few days, until his mother’s milk dries up? Based on past experience with our lambs, that can be a very noisy venture. And I doubt we have a pen strong enough to contain him. We are used to dealing with soft, fluffy lambs here. And before the sheep, pigs inhabited this barn. No bull calves.
Last spring, in order to reduce the spread of parasites, we attempted to wean the lambs by keeping them in a separate field from the ewes. All 77 newborns huddled around the door to the lambing pen (because that was the last place they saw their mothers), bleating and bauling into the night for 72 hours straight. It’s a good thing our neighbours sleep with earplugs and possess a good sense of humour.
When one wise little lamb chose to venture around the corner of the barn, however, she discovered that the ewes were actually in the front field, peacefully eating in the pasture. They seemed to be enjoying their new freedom in their lambless lifestyle.
This little lamb soon found out that he could wriggle under the fence, to once again be united with his mother. All 76 followed, and the rest is history. The lambs weaned themselves on their own, several weeks later.
I am told this will not happen with the bull calf. “He will continue to nurse. He will never stop. And it’s really gross,” our farmwife friend warned. I told her that I was pretty sure the calves had stopped nursing already. I hadn’t seem them under their mothers lately, anyway.
The very next morning I went out to the barn and there was Tyson, practically lifting his mother off the ground so that he could nurse. It is truly disgusting. The sound of the slurping gives me the shivers. Betty just looked at me, with a “God, help me” look on her face.
Something must be done. Even if we manage to wean our little bull, he will continue to grow and become a raging mass of uncontrollable muscle by springtime. I will miss Tyson’s little white face around the farm, but his time has come. We have no room for bulls on this farm. It’s time to call the drover - because I doubt Tyson will fit in the back of our truck.
Of course, that leaves the matter of Mocha, our female calf. She has to be weaned also. She should be considerably less trouble than the male, but she still needs a good strong pen. If anyone knows where we can get some steel fencing secondhand, let me know.
I just hope she isn’t a jumper.

Diana Fisher grew up on the country, but she knew nothing about farming until she married her Farmer a year ago. And some may say she still knows nothing! These are her weekly stories about life on the farm as “The Accidental Farmwife”.

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