Thursday, March 30, 2017
This was a hard week for the Farmer and me. We had a calf born to one of our original cows, Ginger the Difficult. Over the years, Ginger has become considerably easier to approach and deal with, even letting me feed her apples from my hand. She has come a long way since she arrived here in 2008. Unfortunately, when she has a new calf, all bets are off. If you try to approach the calf, you will get a strong head butt to your side that has the potential to break ribs. If you need to get some colostrum from her to feed a weak calf, you might as well look elsewhere. Hopefully you have some from another cow in the freezer. Because you aren’t getting within a foot of Ginger’s udder. Her foot. In your face.
And so, when for the third year in a row Ginger had a calf with no urge to suckle and very little will to thrive, we had to say goodbye. As we awaited Dennis the drover, I tried to feed the calf one last time. I wanted him to at least have a belly full of warm milk because I didn’t know what the next few days would hold for him. When Dennis saw me struggling to feed the calf a bottle of milk replacer, he decided he wouldn’t take it to market after all. “I’m going to drop it off at Neil’s,” he announced. “Maybe he can do something with it.” I wiped the tears and snot off my face (might have been mine; could have been the calf’s) and breathed a big sigh of relief and hope.
Ginger went to market and the calf went to a farm around the corner from us, where I am told the farmer has had a great deal of luck nursing weak calves back to health. I called Neil a day later and got a report on the calf. He had given the calf electrolytes and let it rest covered in hay in the warm sun before intubating and filling its stomach with milk replacer. He agreed that it was having trouble suckling but he said it was getting the hang of it. He said he had a few other mama cows that might even adopt it.
Well that made me feel better. I like to think we do everything we can for our animals to provide a comfortable and safe existence. I hate to see any of them not doing well. During the first week of that calf’s life, I fed it during the day and lay awake worrying about it at night. Each morning I realized I was nervous that another weak calf would be born and we would have to go through the whole process again. Carry it to the barn, give it a shot, test the mother’s udder to make sure the milk flows, try to get the calf to stand and suckle. Feed it by bottle if necessary. If you can get it to take a bottle. It’s so much easier when you just go out to the barn and find a new mother standing there with her calf that is already dried off and suckling.
So when the Farmer came in this morning from his rounds and announced a new calf was born and he needed my help, I had a sinking feeling. I dragged my heels and said I was going out and didn’t want my hair to smell like barn. “What do you need my help for? I don’t think I can handle another calf like the last one. I get too emotional. Maybe we are getting too old for this farming business. Let’s stick to chickens. Maybe you should take up building furniture as a hobby instead…”
“Oh just forget it then, I can do it myself…”he said, refilling his coffee mug before stepping back into his boots. Ugh. I hate it when he is disappointed.
We went to the barn and he climbed into the pen with the calf and the new mother. I held the shepherd’s crook in front of her leg so that she would hit it before she hit my husband’s head if she decided to kick. The milk flowed from the udder. The calf stood. He latched on to his mother and found the milk. All is well. I breathed a sigh of relief, and apologized for all that I had said while suffering from Post Farming Stress Disorder.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 2:43 PM