Our first-calf heifers have not only embraced their pasture communal living arrangement but extended it to include communal feeding. A couple of the new mothers have no objection to their calves bringing home friends for meals.
One of our favorite cows, Hereford (both her breed and her name), presented us with another fine heifer calf. If this little gal continues to thrive, she’s destined to follow in the hoof-steps of several of her sisters and half-sisters to become a permanent member of the Hilbert Herd. Five of Hereford's last six calves have been heifers which we kept. The year she had a bull calf, we kept a heifer from one of her daughters.
As I was putting together this post, Hereford’s calf from two years ago, which Bill kept as a replacement heifer, gave birth to her first calf.
Another one of our favorite cows, One-Toe, also delivered a prospective future member of our herd. One-Toe was featured in one of my book chapters by the same name. As a first-calf heifer, she developed a severe case of foot rot, resulting in the amputation of one “toe” on her right rear hoof. The stress of the prolonged disability and surgery resulted in a premature calf. The calf survived, but had a low birth weight and remained behind its peers in physical development. Since then, One-Toe has delivered good calves, but they were mostly bulls. Bill is already projecting this heifer he named “Two-Toes” will be a keeper. The second picture shows the one-toe hoof.
While I was out taking pictures of the first-calf heifers, I saw buzzards circling overhead. Four landed on fence posts but flew away before I could get a shot. One of the heifers had given birth a couple of hours earlier and expelled her afterbirth, then left it to go feed her calf. New mothers usually eat the afterbirth, known as placentophagia, and opinions vary as to why. According to some experts, the cow eats afterbirth as a bonding act with her calf. Other experts argue placentophagia is not really considered a bonding act since it can occur anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after the birth. Other theories for placenta snacking include:
1. Hunger—The cow is understandably hungry and craving a high-protein post-natal snack, and a pile of placenta is conveniently close.
2. Predator avoidance—To remove any evidence of the birth so the smell doesn’t attract hungry predators.
3. Instinct—No explanation; they just do it.
The circling buzzards were no doubt anticipating a much tastier meal than the usual road kill!