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Monday, April 6, 2015

There are a few April Fools on this farm

We are up to four calves now. Each time one is born we lure them into the barn with their mother and shut them up into their own private pen so they can get to know each other better. Some calves need more help than others in locating the mother’s udder and discovering what it holds.
Two of our newborn calves have needed a shot of selenium to get them going. The soil on our two-hundred acres of Eastern Ontario is lacking in this particular mineral, and that often results in a new animal that does not have the instinct to suckle. While you’re waiting for the selenium to kick in, the calf still needs the valuable mother’s first milk, or colostrum. If it doesn’t get some in the first twenty-four hours, it won’t thrive. So you really need that cow to be in a small, contained space where you can get at her. Some of our cows will just stand to be milked. Others will try to kick you. Get in the pen with Ginger and her newborn calf and you’ll be lucky to get out alive. She tried to fling me with her head like a bull in the ring. She must have had a bad experience before she came to this farm because she has always been extremely suspicious of humans.
After a couple days the Farmer needs to put an elastic on the bull calves. Again, this would be impossible if the calf was outside. Just try to catch a young, springy calf. Good luck with that. After five days to a week, we usually let the mom and baby outside to join the rest of the population. Here is where the fun begins.
When any animal joins the barnyard, they get treated like complete newcomers. Even if they were just there a week ago, eating right beside the others. This morning the mooing and bawling drew my attention to the barnyard. The Farmer had just let the white-faced cow out of the barn with her calf. As I looked out the window, this cow was engaged in some sort of neck-wrestling match with Ginger. It was just like arm wrestling but with the neck. They walked in circles as they tangled. Then, Ginger broke free. She ran around the other side of the hay feeder, the white-faced cow hot on her trail. They chased each other in circles for a minute or two, then separated and wandered off to check on their young.
Just then, Dono the bull decided to sidle up and try to dance with Ginger. The poor girl just gave birth two weeks ago, so she had to keep shaking him off. Talk about exhausting. Her tongue was practically hanging out, she was so tired.
It’s plus 5 as I write this, and the sun is shining. The cows have just taken their first walk across the field to the pasture. They haven’t done that since before the snow came. I watch as they pause to nibble on the pine tree as they pass by. Then they continue ambling on their way, following the exact same crooked path as last year. There is a high spot in the back corner of the first field. That is where they leave all four calves, in the sun. The mothers continue on their way to check out the pasture. I don’t know what they think they will find there at this time of year. A few minutes later they return, their legs dirty past their knees with mud.
They sniff the calves awake and rouse them from their resting place. Dono the bull tries one more time to mount Ginger. She gives him a kick and starts walking back up to the barnyard. When she gets to the house fence she stops and stares at me in the window. I wave. She turns to see the white-faced cow approaching and follows her with her gaze. I guess she realized they do know each other after all. There are no intruders here. The calves trot alongside their mothers. I’m glad the coyotes left when we sold our sheep. Hopefully that cougar whose pawprints I saw doesn’t like veal.
Six more cows to go this calving season, including Big Betty. I don’t even think they are all looking pregnant but you never know; some of them, like Betty, carry it well.

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