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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Welcoming calving season with a little Holly

Calving season 2017 started a little early this year. Normally our cows give birth in late January to March. But the day after Boxing Day, one cow was hanging out in the barn by herself. When the Farmer went to check on her a while later, there was a tiny calf standing beside her.
The calf was up and moving around but didn’t appear to be eating. The lack of selenium in our soil has led to a weak suckling instinct in both our sheep and our cattle. The Farmer gave the little heifer a quick shot of the miracle supplement and in just a few minutes she was up and under her mother, nursing away.
We like to keep the new family in the barn for the first week or so, to ensure the baby knows who her mother is. Hopefully by the time they are released to the barnyard, they will have formed a strong bond and will be less likely to lose each other in the herd.
Every morning we brought two pails of water from the pump to the inner reaches of the barn, where the new mother and baby were recuperating. We filled the feeders with hay and tossed some old straw on the pen floor to sop up some of the wetness. It gets pretty messy in there in a very short time.
After a few days the new mother had had enough of the spa experience and was more than ready to get out of the barn for some fresh air and sunshine. Her little calf was running circles around her in the pen, ready to head out for a romp. We waited for a mild, sunny day to let the pair outside. The temperature was hovering right around the zero mark when I opened the door to the pen. Mama didn’t need much coaxing, and baby followed along with a little skip. I put some of the leftover hay outside in a spot that was sheltered from the wind. Cow and calf lay down for an afternoon nap.
Within about half an hour, the sky had darkened and a blizzard blew in with a snow squall and biting winds. I worried about the little calf and hoped her mom would lead her into the part of the barn where the cows take shelter from the weather. I stood at the window squinting my eyes, trying to see the little black dot in the snow against the barn. I worried she would be too cold, or get separated from her mom in the blinding snow. Just then the Farmer came in, sliding the patio door shut on the storm behind him.
“I put them back in the pen,” he announced. He said he picked up the little calf and carried her back to the room she had just vacated. The weather was just too nasty for such a new little creature. Mom followed, if a little reluctantly. She was enjoying being outside, but wasn’t about to let her baby be taken away.
The next day we tried again to let the animals outside. This time the pair sauntered as far away from the barn as they could go before hitting deep snow. They lay down together in the sunshine at the far corner of the field, as if to say, “we aren’t going back in that barn, thanks. We’re ok right here.”
The little heifer spends her afternoons lying on the bed of spilled hay around the feeder. The bull stands protectively over her so that no one accidentally steps on her while feeding.
We will have to keep a close eye on the rest of the cows to see if any others are planning a surprise birth. Betty is getting a little slower and she has a funny look in her eye. The other day she didn’t want one of the apples I was handing out, either: a sure sign that she isn’t feeling like herself.
Soon we will have fat cows stuffed into all of the old lambing pens and even the horse stable will be full. One down, eleven to go. Calving season 2017 has begun, with a little heifer calf I named Holly. It would be ideal if the rest of them were born before we head to Jamaica at the end of February. Our house sitters aren’t much for delivering calves.
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