Bill: Miracle, I need a favor.
Miracle: What’s that? Munch, munch (Miracle is grazing. Eating is serious business for her.)
Bill: We have a little week-old orphan heifer, #25. Her mama died, kind of like yours did last year.
Miracle: What do you want me to do? I certainly can’t feed her. Munch, munch
Bill: We’re taking care of that by bottle-feeding her milk replacer, just like we did you.
Miracle: I remember that was good stuff! Munch, munch
Bill: She’s shut up in the barn by herself, and she’s scared and lonely without her mama and her friends.
Miracle: I’ve heard her crying. Wondered what was up. Munch, munch
Bill: I just need you to stay in the corral pen with her so she has company and a warm body to snuggle up with. You wouldn’t be her substitute mama, more like a companion. It’s just for a few days, then I’ll turn you both out into the pasture with the first-calf heifers. Look, I’ll even sweeten the deal and give you grain when I feed the heifer.
Miracle: Grain, you say? I’m in! I do remember what it was like to be an orphan—lonely and afraid. Olpe and Frosty were really nice to me. I’ll bunk with her and be her companion. Munch, munch
Anaplasmosis 101 – An infectious disease in cattle that causes destruction of red blood cells. It’s caused by a parasite, Anaplasma marginale, and can be transmitted from infected animals to healthy animals by insects and ticks. The disease destroys red blood cells, causing anemia, loss of appetite, decrease of milk production in lactating cows and, eventually, death.
Treatment with antibiotics can be effective in the early stages but, unfortunately, Cow #25 didn’t exhibit symptoms until the disease was too far advanced. Bill tried to administer antibiotics, but it was too late.
This Cow #25 was the daughter of a previous Cow #25, featured in my book in a chapter titled, “Marginally Unfit Mothers,” and sub-chapter “From Search-and-Rescue Mission to Near-Death Experience.” The original matriarch joined our herd as a first-calf heifer with her unborn calf. An adventure unfolded when I found the newborn calf in the timber, apparently abandoned because I didn’t see the mother. Bill was gone, of course, officiating at a high school football game that evening, and I was faced with having to stay with the calf to protect it from predators until he arrived home. The adventure continued the next day, nearly ending in a catastrophe when a squeeze chute malfunctioned and liberated a rampaging Cow #25 intent on doing me great bodily harm.
Miracle’s mom, Cow #54 a/k/a “Wheezy”, was seriously ill and we doubted she would even have a calf. But she surprised us! However, her major health issues, which were later attributed to bovine leukosis, prevented her from being a proper mother. She had very little milk and would abandon her calf. As a result, the calf turned up missing on two occasions for a total of eight days, surviving predators, dehydration, starvation and a major infestation of screwworms! Appropriately, Bill named her Miracle.
After the second disappearance, we took her to the barn to join two other bottle calves, Olpe and Frosty. The screwworm damage was extensive and took most of the winter to heal. As a result of the cow’s illness and her rough start to life, Miracle’s growth was stunted. She is only about a third of the size of the other yearling calves we just sold. We didn’t sell her because she wouldn’t bring any money at the sale barn. Yearling calves are usually bought by feedlot owners and become feeder calves. With her diminutive size, nobody would want her. Maybe that’s why grazing is such serious business for her: she realizes her growth is stunted and eats to catch up!
But she’s a feisty and resilient little soul and very adaptable! If she gets crowded out at the feed bunk or water tank? No problem, she just circles until she finds a small opening to wiggle through.
We put the other heifers in one of the rented pastures during the summer, but pastured the steers at home. Bill wanted to keep Miracle close since she’s had some minor health issues—abscesses, some of which go away, but others have to be lanced then treated to prevent infection—so he put her in with the steers. Her “Romper Room” buddy, Olpe, and another steer she knew, Levi, were in that group so she hung with them. After the steers were sold, Bill put her in the small pasture with the first-calf heifers. She follows the small herd, grazing and mostly minding her own business.
Another conversation between Bill and Miracle that could have occurred a couple of days after the first one:
Miracle: Farmer Bill, could I have a word with you please? Munch, munch
Bill: Sure, Miracle, what is it?
Miracle: This companion gig is OK. She’s a cute little thing and giving back what other calves once gave me makes me feel valued; gives me a purpose in life since I’ll never be a full-fledged cow. And I appreciate the grain ration. But could you please explain the difference between a companion and a mama to her? As soon as she polishes off the bottle of milk replacer and you leave, she trots over and tries to suck my teats! Munch, munch
Bill: Sorry, Miracle. Just give her a little nudge. She’ll soon figure it out.