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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Thank goodness, Carlos sucks.

One of our black Angus heifers, whom I named Ebony, had a little bull calf a week ago Monday. The Farmer pulled the little guy across the snow, and tucked him and his mother into a big pen in the lambing area. Then he went to work.
At the end of the day we found a very weak and tired little calf, curled up on a pile of hay in the corner of the pen. He had apparently been exhausted from chasing his mother around the pen all day. His little body was hunched over: the sign of hunger. My husband got a clean ice cream container and climbed into the pen to approach the mama.
Thankfully, she was calm and relaxed, and didn’t try to kill him. Instead she let him take her valuable first milk, the colostrum. If the calf didn’t get this in his first 24 hours of life, he would not survive.
The calf was fed the thick yellow milk with a big plastic syringe. After a few feedings he struggled to his feet and approached his mother. He nuzzled at the fleshy dewlap under her chin, searching for teats. Wrong end, buddy. When he finally found her udder, she gave him a quick shove with her foot. Not a vicious kick, but a rejection all the same. We watched as this routine played out again and again. I mixed a bottle of milk replacer and we quickly discovered the problem. The calf was gnawing as opposed to suckling on the nipple. No mama cow was going to put up with that – even a patient one.
In Eastern Ontario, our soil is often lacking in the mineral selenium. As a result, at least one animal born on the farm every season seems to have this problem where they are born without the instinct or knowledge to suck. The other issue is that there is a shortage of selenium available in farm supply outlets again this year. Thankfully we managed to get some. Unfortunately the calf needed it right away and the Farmer wouldn’t be around to give it to him as he had meetings all day. I had to learn how to use a hypodermic needle, and fast.
I guess every Farmwife should know how to give a shot to her animals. I should also know how to mend a pair of jeans and the fence that ripped ‘em, apparently. And one day I should probably learn how to shoot a gun, in the general direction of the coyote who keeps trying to carry off my sheep. I just found a terrified ewe cowering in the corner of the barn with a tooth puncture wound on her neck. The vampire is back.
I trudged off to the barn with the needle tucked into my breast pocket and another bottle of milk replacer in the bib of my snowpants, keeping warm. The mama cow let me into her pen, stepping back a bit to let me at her calf, which was once again curled up in the corner, asleep. I took a few seconds kneading and rubbing his long bony legs, trying to find the fleshiest bit of the muscle. He was the size of a full-grown black Lab. The massage woke him up and his empty tummy told him to get to his feet. I had to hold him down to quickly inject him with the selenium. I did it. The calf got up, honked at me in protest, and staggered over to his mother, who again shoved him away with her foot. I backed the calf up into the corner, straddled him, lifted his chin and put the bottle nipple in his mouth. He drank two litres right away and somewhere in the second litre he started sucking.
Next, we had to get the mama to trust her calf, who we named Carlos. The Farmer tied a rope around her kickin’ leg and every time she raised it to hit her calf, he gave it a tug. She mooed a question, then quickly learned that the calf had learned how to get milk without hurting his mother.
They are going to be fine. It’s been another very busy but successful week on the farm, with a happy ending. I hope lambing season goes just as well, later in February.

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