Heifer calf #126 was born early in the morning of December 11, 2011. Her Dad was a Charolais bull – Cooley Smart Choice 7049 and her Mom was 5 year old commercial Brangus cow #582. When the calving starts, we are in our pastures day and night checking cattle – especially young heifers that are having their first calf. But this was not the first calf for #582. We made our rounds and noted that she was in labor. It was a little over an hour before she delivered. Labor was not especially difficult, but the calf was big. Mom began her work – cleaning – “talking” to it – nudging it to get up and get started on the milk. Mom’s first milk – colostrum – is critical in the life of the calf and the calf must have received it in the first several hours for a healthy start. The colostrum is filled with antibodies that protect the calf against certain infections and is higher in Vitamin A than normal milk. Everything appeared normal so we left. It really is best to leave them alone so the cow can take care of business. And as my vet says – “they need to start loving each other”. Now remember – the ranch normally runs 500 head of Mother cows so our rounds take time during the calving season. So we left and moved on to another pasture. It appeared #582 had all under control and would have her baby up nursing on schedule. And she did – and it did get its first colostrum.
By the evening though, #582 was bellowing repeatedly. Something was wrong. She was standing over her calf and it would not get up. I tried to rouse the calf – but the calf was curled up in a deep sleep – no activity. The calf was so big that it had exhausted itself in the birthing process. Now, we had to go to work to save it. It had gotten dark and cold. I came back to the house for a large calf bottle with a warm mixture of colostrum, proteins, live microbials, electrolytes and vitamins. Then Gary and I went back to the pasture with the warm milk mixture.
There is another little problem. The cow is very protective and can take on a “killer” instinct to defend her baby. It is hard to communicate to the cow that you are trying to save the baby. And since I have yet to meet my first “cow whisper” – I keep my guard up. My cows are docile but I start talking to the cow from the time my pick-up door swings open. So not only do I need the head lights of the truck – I need that truck for my escape if necessary.
#582 wanted our help. That calf was huge and I had a hard time in my strength getting the calf lifted enough to put it in a position to suck the bottle. And it takes work to get them to suck. This night #582 was right there with me – head on my shoulder – then sniffing the calf – then “lowing” in a pleading manner for the calf to get up and suck. Finally – it started taking the bottle. It is always a great moment when the calf starts responding – stands up – and Mom takes over.