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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kickin' butts and takin' names at the bovine hotel.

The barn has been altered once again to meet the needs of the ever-growing cattle family – this time by the Farmer and not the cows themselves. Before Christmas the cows busted into the birthing area and knocked down all the pen walls with their big butts.
The Farmer brought in new feeders and reinforced the pen walls in time for the first birth. Julie went first, then Ginger, then Mocha. By the time Betty went into labour we had to admit adapting the sheep pens to accommodate a mama cow and her calf was not ideal. We had to keep throwing old, dry hay down to sop up the mucky mess they were standing in. On a mild day, we turned them all back outside.
Then that polar vortex blew into town and Q-tip decided to give birth. Really bad timing. She gave birth just after our last check of the night, outside. We didn’t realize she was ready to birth, so we didn’t put her inside. As a result, her baby froze. The next day she stood outside the door where the Farmer had taken her dead calf, and she bawled. Then she went back to the spot where she had given birth, and just stared at the ground. It took a few days for her to stop looking for her calf. The cows had access to the barn for shelter, but it wasn’t enough.  We knew we had to do something to convert the barn so that the cows could come in and be warm.
The Farmer and the boys set to work securing metal gates across the middle of the barn, dividing it in half. With just eleven remaining sheep, a horse and donkey, they don’t need much room. Just a shelter from the windy, wet weather and access to water.
The cows got the other half of the barn, plus access to the inner room that is toasty, dry and warm in comparison. They could come and go, in and out as they please.
At first there was a bit of a power struggle. Julie would stand guard at the doorway to the inner room, tossing new calves aside with her big head. She wouldn’t let them in to the best room in the hotel. Then Betty realized she could crane her neck over to the stacked bales of hay and pull one down like a buffet. What a mess she made. I’m just glad she didn’t pull the huge bale down onto a calf.
I yelled at Julie and she looked startled and then ashamed. I swear she understood. We are very gentle with our animals – we have given them a smack on the butt to get them moving at times but they are never treated unkindly. Julie has become very tame, like her mother Mocha. I pushed the other mothers’ calves into the warm room with Julie and watched as one by one she sniffed them, then snorted and walked away. They do eventually work things out among themselves.
With eleven cows , one bull and four new calves, it’s time to start thinking about naming the rest of our herd. For some reason I didn’t get around to it last year. We don’t name the males, because they will be sold by the end of their first year anyway. But naming the females just makes it easier for us to keep track of them. We bought Ginger and Big Betty at auction, and I named them (although the Farmer insists on using the prefix “Ugly”). Anastasia named Mocha. Julie was born on the 1st of July. Q-tip looks like her tail has a cotton tip. Then we have two white-faced black heifers I have named “Left Eye” and Lola and four pure black girls. One of those four has a big curl on her head, like Gina Lollobrigida. She will be named Gina, and the other three can be Rosie, Bessie and Kate. But I still can’t tell them apart. The two female calves I have named Bandit (for her mask) and Bonnie. 
Maybe I can get them some kind of scarves to wear that will distinguish them from each other. Or brand them with a wee smattering of paint on their ebony sides. As their personalities emerge it will be easier to tell them from each other.

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