6 April 2021 – Freezing rain and snow and 28 degrees
Holy Cow or Holy Calf we have been busy since the last blog! We have three more calves but this blog will be dedicated to the heifer calf we named Moon Pi. On Monday, the 29th of March at 5AM I headed out across the stock dam into the maternity ward pasture to check on the cattle. Dave had just checked at 3AM, and thought I might need to look at our heifer, Fatz, who was acting a little strange and off by herself.
The full moon was shining so brightly I could see from a distance that Fatz was licking a little black bundle on the ground, and I could see little eyes and a head. As I got closer I could tell she had just calved because the baby still was covered in goo. Fatz was still standing there straining with her tail straight out behind her and I thought she might be having twins, but thank goodness she was not and was just finishing up her birthing process. She turned around and started licking her new calf who was pretty quick to get up and try to nurse.
Unfortunately, Fatz was not going to allow that. For unknown reasons, some first-calf heifers just don’t know what being a mother entails. I guess no one ever told them what to expect. It’s possible that she was sore after calving, or just scared by the whole process. It was extremely windy which is always unsettling and that may have put her on edge as well. Anyway, she would not let the baby near her milk bag and kept aggressively kicking it down and eventually she just turned and walked away.
By this time, Dave was out with me and we realized that Fatz might need some alone time with her baby so we picked up the baby and took her a short distance to the shed, anticipating that mom would follow and get away from the rest of the herd who was starting to get up and get on with their days. Fatz was not interested in following and we eventually coaxed her into the shed with her baby. At this point, she completely lost her mind and began aggressively pacing and testing the shed gate, not giving any thought to her newborn and almost trampling her. We opened the shed door and Fatz left.
Now Dave and I were looking at this poor pathetic calf, barely two hours old, and no mom around that was remotely interested in her. We knew that she needed colostrum immediately to ensure a healthy immune system for her life ahead, and went and heated up a bottle and tried to feed it to her. This calf was barely hanging on and would not take the bottle. We called the vet to see what else could be done and she reinforced the idea that that calf needed colostrum immediately and that we could give it to her with an esophageal feeder, or stomach tube. We had not done this before so Dave put the little calf on the floorboard of his truck and booked it to the vet where she taught him how to tube a baby.
The vet instructed that if the baby did not get up and eat from a bottle in two hours that we should tube her again, which we ended up doing two more times. By the third time, she was clearly getting stronger but wasn’t quite able to stand on her own. After the 3rd dose of milk she got up, wobbly legged, and hesitantly drank milk replacer from a bottle. Oh by the way, this all took place in the mudroom of the house because it was quite cold and we wanted her to have the best chance at life.
Long story, I know, but the result was after multiple mini-meals of milk the baby began to regain strength and by the next afternoon she was actively searching out the bottle and sucking so hard I thought she would pull the nipple right off the thing! Since this little heifer calf was the 3rd calf this season and her ear tag number would be 14, we decided to name her Pi after the mathematical constant 3.14. Since she was born under the full moon we called her Moon Pi.
Meanwhile, Fatz went out to graze with the herd and did not look back until the next morning. I’m sure she had milk in her bag and it was starting to irritate her. It seemed she realized she had missed out on something and needed her calf, because she kept coming up to the barn and loudly and insistently mooing. We wanted Moon Pi to get a little stronger before we tried to reunite her with her mom, but we knew she needed to be around other cows or we would end up with a bottle baby for the next 5 months. We moved Pi into a barn stall where she could hear her mom outside and her mom could hear her. We let them sniff each other through some corral panels and Fatz finally seemed very interested in getting her baby back. We opened the panels and put them together and Fatz licked her all over until Moon Pi tried to get on her teat to eat and then Fatz stomped on her again!
We hustled in there and grabbed the poor baby away from her mom and realized this was going to take some more work. After consulting with multiple cattlemen and other ranchers we decided to catch Fatz in the squeeze chute and either milk her, or hobble her hind feet and put Moon Pi up to her so they both could realize what was supposed to happen. Does this sound like a crazy idea? Maybe, but lots of others have had success with this technique for absentee moms and it was definitely worth a shot.
We enlisted the help of a neighbor, and caught Fatz in the squeeze chute. Dave got down behind her and threw ropes around her rear feet to hobble her. The neighbor held the ropes while I tried to distract her in front of the chute with hay and cow cake. When they were ready, I got Moon Pi out of the barn stall and pushed her up underneath her mom. With the neighbor keeping Fatz from hurting us, Dave and I were able to maneuver the calf up to her mom’s teats and before too long, she was sucking away! As soon as the baby began nursing it was like Fatz had taken a sedative. She relaxed in the chute completely and began eating her hay and not struggling. Progress!
We decided to slowly introduce this process as the last time we tried to put Fatz back with Moon Pi, Moon Pi was nearly trampled to death. We planned on repeating the mandatory nursing for the next few days in the hopes that mom would relax and realize that the baby was a good thing. After two days we put them back together again and Voila! Mom adopted her baby back and we watched, overjoyed, as she let her nurse and did not even try to kick her.
And then the weather improved, the sun came out and everyone lived happily ever after. Okay, not quite, but the weather did improve and Fatz did take Moon Pi back. Oddly enough, Fatz became extremely overprotective, not letting us get near Moon Pi and acting very aggressive to other calves that came to investigate. She seemed to realize that if she wasn’t going to be a good mom, her baby would get disappeared! We were still quite pleased. The best thing for that little calf is a cow-momma, not an adopted people-momma.
Dave and I were feeling pretty good about this. Thank goodness for all the advice from other cattle owners and the help of good neighbors. Sometimes life on the Holler ain’t all sunshine and roses, but it sure feels good when a problem gets worked out. It especially feels good to do something you never imagined you would do and see a positive result. We hope you all are doing well out there in the real world. Hang onto your freedoms and we’ll do the same!