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Saturday, February 14, 2015

The test of Dono the bull

When Dono jumped down out of the truck in the fall of 2013 he was closer in resemblance to a black Lab than a bull calf. We watched as he strutted confidently among the much larger females and thought, that boy is going to need a stepladder.
The following spring, it was time for him to prove his mettle. We didn’t witness the act; he appears to prefer discretion over mating in plain view. In any case, he was the only bull on the farm in early 2014 and some of our cows are clearly pregnant now so it would appear he has found a way to do his job.
Strangely enough, it looks like the bigger cows are the pregnant ones. The young heifers don’t appear to have gained anything in girth over the last few seasons. Dono must have aimed high and started with the most difficult job first. And he might have lost interest or quit before he finished the job.
Big Betty never looks pregnant. She carries her babies like a big-boned European woman. When she is going into labour she tends to be quite vocal. And then one day she just stops in mid-sentence, closes her eyes and…gives birth. We’ve never had any trouble with her. Ginger is absolutely massive, like a bulbous tug boat pulling in and out of harbour every time she enters or exits the barn. It will be difficult to get her into a pen for the birth so hopefully she is old and wise enough now to choose a sensible birthing place so we don’t have to.
Last year we brought some nice dry hay into the barn for a birthing area but it got extremely cold and one calf that was born just in the doorway to the barn froze within hours of birth. That affected the Farmer and I very deeply; we felt so bad that we weren’t prepared for that birth. The mama stood outside the door to the barn, the last place she saw her calf, and bawled for three days. Calving season can be a dramatic time.
We have been very lucky. We’ve never had to pull a calf. I guess we have chosen bulls that throw small enough calves that they don’t get stuck on the way out. Thank goodness. The idea of hooking chains up to the hooves and pulling a calf out of its mother with a tractor is enough to make me faint. We do have some sort of gentle pulling apparatus for sheep but I doubt it would work on a calf. I truly appreciate that our mamas seem to know what they are doing, for the most part.
We will be keeping a close eye on that mama who lost her calf in the snow last year, to ensure she is given access to shelter from the wind in the barn. Sometimes Betty and Ginger can take up all the good spots and everyone else is shut out but without the sheep we have a lot more room to spare this year.
I’m hoping we have better luck with the selenium deficiency this year. Last season we had one calf born who just didn’t know how to suck. He liked his mom and she liked him. That wasn’t the problem. He just didn’t seem to realize that she was also meant to be his source of food. He just cuddled up to her and she would look back at him and try to position herself so he would find the milk but he never clued in. Right away we realized we had a problem. Thankfully, the mama allowed the Farmer to steal some of the colostrum to feed the calf. Because without the liquid gold in that first mama’s milk, no newborn animal will thrive. Then I went to the house to mix up some milk replacer. I started with two large bottles a day and increased it gradually until I was feeding him up to four litres of milk replacer a day. I was his only source of nutrition. It was quite a responsibility. That little bull calf never did reach the size of his barnyard siblings but he did just fine. After a couple months the snow melted and he was on the new spring grass, growing every day.
You never know what drama is ahead with calving season. Here’s hoping it goes easy on us.

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