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Friday, March 25, 2016

Lucy and Linda the closet-eating calf

On Thursday morning the Farmer pointed out the kitchen window toward the thorn bushes lining the stone fence.
“Do you see that cow? She’s hiding from the heifer.” No, I did not see the cow. She was that good at this game. Then I saw the bushes move. Not a very comfortable place to hide, I’m sure. But the pregnant cow was anxious to get away from her year-old calf, who was nearly big as her but still suckling.
“That cow is going to calve today,” the Farmer declared. Sure enough, when I got home from work the light was on in the horse stable-turned-newborn-centre. The calf was big and healthy but the cow did not appear happy. She was bawling to be let out, probably because spring is in the air. She can smell the earth and wants to go for a wander through the meadow. But first she had a calf to feed.
The cow was nice enough to let the Farmer steal some colostrum, and this he fed to the new calf with a syringe because she didn’t seem to be interested in her mother’s udder. There was a lot of sidling up and nuzzling for comfort but no apparent feeding. The Farmer also gave an injection of Selenium with Vitamin E, as our soil is deficient in this part of Eastern Ontario. That shot usually gets them up and suckling. Not in this case.
And yet, the calf remained strong. The next day, we struggled to feed her with a bottle. She stood for us, then bucked and bronced her way out of our grasp. When we put the bottle in her mouth she didn’t suck. She just chomped and spit and drooled, wasting the milk. It was so weird.
The calf peed and had bowel movements, so we knew she got something, but from where?
“She must be suckling from her mother when we aren’t looking,” reasoned the Farmer. “But it’s really strange that she doesn’t have a sucking reflex on the bottle.”
I offered my expert opinion. “Maybe she hates the taste and feel of the bottle. And the milk replacer.”
When the calf was 48 hours old I went to the barn again, early morning. The calf stood to greet me, or to prepare an exit. She circled her mother and even sniffed under her at the udder but never latched on.  When the Farmer went out a few hours later he couldn’t catch her suckling either. He went out again after dark and snuck in quietly. The calf was under the mother. No feeding was happening.
The calf is now three days old and we have yet to see it eat. It’s the weirdest thing. I think we will have to keep it inside until we witness a feeding – although if the calf is strong enough to get up and walk around – it even bounced across the stall today – then it’s safe to assume it’s getting something.
Mysteries on the farm.
That’s four down, eight to go. So far, so good. All calves born are strong and healthy. And eating. As far as we know.
Ginger is about the size of a Mack truck so I assume she will be going next. She followed me around the barnyard today until I gave her the apple in my hand. She’s come a long way from the suspicious Hereford who tried to kill the Farmer when he tried to milk her once. She will eat right out of my hand now. The other day she was lying on a sunny pile of hay beside the feeder and let me pet her for about ten minutes. In previous years she would let me get within five feet of her, then bounce up and away.
Our three little calves that are already outside spend sunny afternoons curled up beside or inside the hay feeder. I sat beside the red one and put his sleepy head in my lap. He stayed there a few minutes until a bird call woke him up. Imagine his surprise to see he was sleeping on me. He jumped straight up in the air and took off bawling for his mother.
Spring is here and the animals are so happy they can walk the well-beaten path over the rocky terrain to the meadow. They pick the highest, driest and sunniest spot for their afternoon naps.


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