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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Operation Calf Rescue

“We’re havin’ a heatwave; a tropical heatwave…”~Irving Berlin

The heat this past week was just what we needed to finally open our water to the barn. It’s been frozen since Christmas. Hallelujah. We have worn out and snapped two water hoses in the past few months of filling troughs of water for the cows twice a day.
Now I look outside and the cows are nowhere in sight. I know I will find them in the heat of the day, resting in the dark cool of the barn, right beside their automatic water fountain. Oh the bliss. Cool, fresh water that refills itself.
We have three cows left to give birth. Last week one got away on us and gave birth in the second field. After the end-of-day head count the Farmer realized he was missing one cow-in-waiting. He hitched the trailer to the back of the ATV and away we went: Operation Calf Rescue.
I was the hood ornament on the front of the ATV for the first stage of the rescue. I shot a short video on my cell phone as we rode past and startled the rest of the herd. The calves started following us, looking at their mothers first who moo’ed their approval. In fact it was the calves who alerted the Farmer to the missing cow’s location in the first place. They were lined up, six little butts in a row, peeking over the stone fence.
That’s where we found her and her new calf, a healthy heifer, already nursing. We slowed down and pulled up alongside the pair. The Farmer jumped out and managed to lasso the calf on his first try. The mother stepped aside, alarmed, and went back to the spot where she had given birth. Her instincts told her that although her calf had suddenly vanished into thin air, she would find it there. The Farmer brought the calf to me and after one quick ‘baa’ for its mother it was quiet in my lap. As the Farmer kicked the ATV into gear the gangly calf started flailing its legs and trying to escape its blanket strait jacket. I kept my arm around its neck and one of its legs firmly gripped in my hand as we made our slow and bumpy descent back up over rocky pasture to the barnyard.
Mama Cow remained at the place of birth, bawling for her young. The other cows, seeing what was happening, came to the stone fence to advise and encourage her. After a short argument, some of them came around to her side as if to usher her back up to the barn. I’ve seen this kind of thing before, with the horse, donkey and sheep. It’s kind of amazing to watch.
Up at the barnyard, the Farmer slid the stable door open and placed the little calf on some hay, leashed to the doorway. The cows, breathing heavily from trotting up the field, came to sniff her over.
“Which one is the mama?” I asked. All the black ones look alike to me. I tried naming them at first: Gina (curls on her head remind me of Gina Lollobrigida); Carly; Suzie…but depending on the weather and what kind of night they’ve had, their hair can go straight and flat as well. And then they look exactly the same. So I gave up trying to identify them from each other.
“Stand back and you’ll see which one is the mother,” the Farmer said.
Sure enough, mama recognized her babe and resumed her task of combing its coat with her rough tongue. Getting the pair into the stable was a bit of a rodeo, as the mother cow’s nerves were shot and she didn’t trust anyone. When her calf tried to nurse, she danced in circles to get away from it. I filled her feeders with the best hay, loaded up three water buckets that she didn’t have to share with anyone, presented her a bowl of sweet feed and welcomed her to the cow hotel. That seemed to calm her down a bit, but we kept a close eye on her for the next few days to make sure she was feeding her calf because every time I checked on them they were both lying down, asleep in the unseasonal heat. After a week it was safe to slide open the door and release the pair to join the rest of the herd. Operation Calf Rescue: Success.

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