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Friday, March 24, 2017

Ginger the original difficult cow

I’ve been doing this ten years now and I still freak out a little when I see blood on freshly fallen snow. When I did the cattle count the other morning, Ginger was missing. I found her in the barn, tucked into a sunny corner. She had just given birth. The calf was still wet. 

Now, Ginger is one of our original two cows. She and Betty were the pair that taught us all our lessons. A decade later, she is only slightly less ornery than she was when she hopped off the truck and strutted into the barnyard.

Ginger is very difficult to deal with but I had to get her and her calf into the pen so that they could bond. The past two years, Ginger has had trouble with her calves. I don’t know if she is getting old or if it’s just her meanness coming out. Two years ago I gave up on her feeding the calf, let her out of the pen and kept the calf in the barn to feed him every day. When he was old enough to eat hay and grass on the meadow we let him out to join the herd. Ginger seemed to recognize him, and looked after him all day, but he never nursed. He stayed about half as big as the other calves, but he survived to market time.

Last year once again Ginger’s calf didn’t seem to understand how to nurse. He wouldn’t take the bottle, either. But after some coaxing and coddling, by some miracle one night, he latched on to mama and didn’t let go until his belly was full. Once he had that figured out it was off to the races.
Now I feel like we are in exactly the same spot again, trying to get a calf to do what is supposed to come naturally. We’ve given him extra selenium and vitamins. We’ve fed him colostrums and we just forced him to swallow a few ounces of milk replacer. Ginger grunted at him and tried to reach me with her big head as I stood in the aisle, straddling her calf. I had a rope around his neck and one leg, to hold him steady and backed him into a corner so he couldn’t escape. I put the bottle in his mouth and he just lolled his tongue around it without sucking. He clamped down with his teeth once in a while and I was squeezing the nipple of the bottle so he did get some milk. I heard him swallow a few times. If we are going to keep him alive, this is going to be quite a battle.

When this happened to lambs from time to time we would intubate them to fill their stomachs. I hate doing that – it looks so darned uncomfortable. Even after you’ve gone to that extreme, you have to hope they are going to get a burst of appetite and snap out of their slump, because you can’t keep sticking a tube down their throats. Mom does all she can to lead the calf to her udder, and we’ve got them in a small pen so they are constantly together. Now we just have to sit back and let nature take its course. Probably one of my least favourite references to farming.

The other calf that arrived last Sunday seems to have a bit of a gimpy leg. She’s kind of cute, dancing around her mother in the pen. Her belly is clearly fat and full of milk. We have never witnessed her feeding but she obviously does. She and her mom seem quite interested in Ginger’s predicament. They seemed to be listening carefully when the Farmer was speaking to her.

We have had quite a few female calves born this year. We have five left to come. With our pasture able to sustain about a dozen cattle, it may be time to say goodbye to some of the older ones who are no longer able to produce healthy calves. It’s a reality of farming: not a very nice one, but there it is.
Despite her nasty countenance and the way she keeps trying to kick my husband, however, I like Ginger. She is warming up to me, too. She eats apples out of my hand and lets me touch her nose. I still have hope her calf will start to suckle, and this chapter will have a happy ending.

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