The last weekend of August, Bill brought the soon-to-be first-calf heifers home from a rented pasture a half mile away to a small pasture near the house so we can supervise them during labor, delivery and new motherhood. Usually the process goes as nature intended; but occasionally Bill has to step in to help deliver a calf or encourage bonding between the new mother and her calf.
Unfortunately, one of the first-calf heifers, #258, had already birthed a stillborn calf a day or two earlier, almost three weeks premature. The “baby bump” in her midsection was gone, she was still trailing a little afterbirth and her udder was swelling with milk—“making a bag” in Farmerese.
The potential new moms settled into the “labor and delivery” pasture, and a few days later another heifer, #141, birthed her calf. As soon as #258 saw the new baby, she charged up to it and started sniffing and licking it, claiming it as her own. An older cow wouldn’t have tolerated this intrusion, but #141 didn’t know what she should do. As #258 continued to claim possession of the calf and shove #141 away, Bill decided if #258 wanted to be a mother that badly, he would get a baby for her to adopt. He called a dairy about a half-hour away and the dairyman agreed to sell him a two-day old Holstein bull calf. Dairies don’t keep bull calves; someone buys and bucket-feeds, then sells them.
Usually, we wouldn’t attempt an adoption with a first-calf heifer because sometimes they require help developing their motherly instincts toward their own calves, let alone an adoptee. Not a problem with #258!
To facilitate past adoptions where the calf was dead on arrival or died shortly thereafter, Bill skinned the pelt off and tied it on the adoptee. Then he rubbed the mom’s afterbirth on it to trick her into believing this was her natural calf. In the current situation, neither was available. But prior to herding #258 to the barn to wait for the adoptee, she had peed. Bill grabbed his handkerchief out of his back pocket and tossed it onto the wet spot in the grass, similar to the way he tossed the yellow penalty flag in his football officiating days. Now he had an identifying smell from the prospective mom. I know. It’s gross, but you do what you have to do!
Bill arrived home and unloaded the Holstein calf. At least this calf was more black than white, unlike a couple previous adoptees that were the opposite, although it didn’t seem to matter. He rubbed it with the peed-on hanky and applied “Orphan No More” calf claim powder, a product that is sprinkled onto the calf’s dampened back and is flavored to encourage the cow to lick the adoptee until she claims it as her own.
He pushed the calf into the pen with #258. She perked up her ears, rushed to her new baby and began sniffing and licking it. This could be one of the fastest adoptions we’d ever attempted.
However, that night #258 bawled almost all night. Bill assumed she was calling for #141’s calf which she still thought was her baby. The next morning, I heard bawling and went out to find #141 standing near the barn. She may have forgotten where she left her calf and thought it was in the barn with #258. I walked the length of the pasture along the fence line, then returned along the opposite side searching for the calf. I was nearly back to the starting point when I found #141 with her calf. She’d evidently found it while I was walking the opposite direction.
Bill had already decided not to put #258 and her adoptee back into the same pasture with #141; but apparently more distance than adjacent pastures would be necessary. He loaded up Pair #141and took them to a rented pasture. Pair #258 is at home in one of our own pastures with older cows that won’t tolerate her attempting to claim their calves.