Early the evening of September 30th, Bill was making the second of his two-a-day calf-check rounds. Cricket and I headed out on our walk and met him at the gate to one of the pastures. He’d already ear-tagged one new calf, then found Cow #59 with twins! He’d run out of tags and was returning to the barn to replenish the post-natal supply bucket he keeps in his pickup. We waited at the gate until he returned then went with him to the delivery location. The cow apparently recognized and accepted both calves, heifers, so life was good! Sometimes they don’t accept one twin and will abandon it. Later, almost dark, Bill found another newborn in an adjoining pasture. So he tagged four calves in about an hour and a half. Did these three cows synchronize their deliveries?
The next morning, as Bill made his morning rounds, he checked on the twins. He found Cow #59 and one twin about a hundred yards from the delivery site. The other twin was only about twenty-five yards from it. Mama decided to move and the second twin hadn’t received enough nourishment to make the trip so was abandoned along the way. Bill tried to get her up and walk her over to Mama but she was so weak it was like handling a limp dishrag. Time for an intervention: the calf needed nourishment fast. He would have to load it into the back of the truck and take it to the barn. By that time, Mama arrived on the scene and fussed at him for messing with her calf. She started to lick her as if to say “This is my baby and I love her. Scram!” Bill herded the other twin over to distract her long enough to load the weak one.
Once Bill got back to the barn, he put the calf in a small pen and tried to tube-feed it with just-add-water colostrum substitute. Even in her weakened condition, she wanted no part of the tube so he used a bottle with a nipple. She latched on and swallowed about two-thirds of it. He gave her the rest later.
Meanwhile, Bill went back and herded Mama and the other twin to the small pasture near the barn. She didn’t care for being relocated against her will. He got them through the gate and left them to rest. Later that afternoon, he went back to start the trip to the barn to reunite the family. By that time, Mama was clinging to her last nerve: Bill had kidnapped one-half of her pride-and-joy duo; then forcibly moved her and the remaining half from their “home” pasture; and now he thinks he’s going to move them again? Of course, there’s no way of knowing, but she may have thought her missing calf was still in the “home” pasture.
That did it! Mama lowered her head and charged Bill. He rapped her on the nose with his herding stick, not hard but just enough to make her think twice about annihilating him! They started on the quarter-mile-plus journey. Mama charged him twice more and received the deterring rap each time. They finally reached the corral and he put them in the pen. She recognized her missing calf and started licking her. Then, much to Bill’s surprise, the calf got to its feet and started to nurse! Pleased with the reunion result, he left them together for the night.
A Lesson Relearned
I looked out my kitchen window several times during the morning to check on the family. Both calves were lying down in the corner of the pasture and Mama was standing diagonally across the corner to provide shade and protection. I saw one calf nurse a couple of times, but never saw both calves at once. The day was unseasonably warm and I grew concerned about whether or not the weak calf was nursing to get not only nourishment but fluids so it wouldn’t dehydrate.
This is the point at which my concern for the welfare of the calf overrode my better judgement. I knew Mama’s mood probably hadn’t improved, considering what she’d been through the past twenty-four hours. Most likely, her mood had plummeted further as she was standing in the hot sun with no intention of leaving her beloved twins. But, I didn’t want a calf to dehydrate and die on my watch so I ventured out to check on them. I detoured through the barn and grabbed a few range cubes (cow treats) to bribe my way into her good graces so I could get close enough to assess the calves’ conditions. Approaching slowly, I held out the range cube to her at a considerably stretched arm’s length, glancing down at the twins. Mama took the treat from my hand, lowered her head and put me on the ground!
Momentarily stunned, that instinct I’m supposed to possess that tells me to reflexively roll away in case she came in for the kill was nowhere to be found! A second or so passed before I realized I needed to get away fast, but without making sudden moves that would further antagonize her. I rolled over, got to my feet and slowly backed away. She didn’t move, just looked daggers at me. Both calves had raised their heads to see what all the commotion was about. Good sign!
Once I made it to the gate I assessed the damage: a sore spot on the underside of my right hip, one on my right arm where it hit the fence panel and shaky nerves that probably registered about an eight on the Richter scale. (Luckily that part of the fence isn’t barbed wire. That could have been really ugly!) I would have bruises and soreness but no major damage. What I realized I didn’t have was a bashed-in face or crushed chest from her butting me. Apparently, she shoved me just enough to make her point, I lost my balance and fell.
As I walked to the house, the magnitude of that lapse in judgment slammed into me. I was extremely lucky that Cow #59 is one of our tamest cows. We don’t keep cows that aren’t tame. But, as I stated earlier, the tamest cow on the place can morph into a raging beast to protect her calf. Also, I was alone at home and wasn’t packing my cell phone. Another major lapse. Of course, for the cell to be effective in an emergency, one has to be conscious to use it! Which I was…this time.
When Bill returned home, I debated for a couple of hours about whether or not to tell him about my mishap. Finally, I decided to come clean. He replayed all of the what-could-have-happened scenarios that I’d already been flogging myself with. When he asked whether or not I had my cell phone, I jokingly replied that one has to be conscious to use the cell in an emergency. He was not amused! Note to self: Next time, leave out the cell phone joke.
Next time? There will be no “next time”!
A few days later, I tried for better pics of Family 59. Twin 59-2 was on one side of the creek hanging out with her friends and Mama and Twin 59-1 were on the other side. It's just so hard to get the whole family together for pictures!