When you raise livestock, the circle of life is always in front of you. Calving season in particular brings the miracle of birth and the reality of death front and center. Unfortunately, the past week has been a little heavy on the latter.
If you remember, a few posts back, I wrote about a heifer that wasn’t doing very well after giving birth. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it so we are now bottle feeding her calf.
My oldest daughter’s heifer had her calf earlier this week as well. But it didn’t go as we had hoped. My father-in-law ended up having to call the veterinarian in the middle of the night because the calf was backwards. They were able to successfully pull the calf and it lived for a couple of days. But it was very weak and couldn’t stand on its own. Laney was so excited to hear that her calf had been born. She just had to go meet him right after daycare that day. We explained to her that he was not doing so well and tried to prepare her for the reality that he may not make it. Unfortunately, he passed away yesterday.
Now that we have an orphaned calf and a heifer with no calf, we’re hoping that this heifer will foster the calf. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t as cows don’t always want to claim a calf that isn’t theirs. There are many different theories on how to get a cow to foster an orphaned calf. We tried one particular method last year and had success with it in a couple of different situations so we plan to try it again this year.
In order to encourage this heifer to claim the calf, we will actually keep them separated at first. When the calf needs to eat, we will lock the cow in our head gate so that she will stand still and let the calf nurse her a few times a day. The key is to not let them see or smell each other for two to three days. If the cow sees the calf, she will know right away that the calf is not hers and she may not want to foster it. After a few days of doing this, then we let them be together and hope that the cow claims the calf as her own. With any luck, this heifer and orphaned calf will be a family soon.
As a parent, you want to spare your children any hurt, pain or disappointment. You want to make their world happy and positive. But my girls are learning invaluable life lessons on our farm. They’re learning that sometimes life isn’t fair. Sometimes, we don’t get what we want and there’s nothing we can do about it. Sometimes, we’re forced to accept a circumstance that we didn’t choose.
We’re doing our best to try to explain life and death to our kids but it can be very difficult. My girls’ bedtime prayers have been revolving around the cows and calves lately. We clearly have some more explaining to do as our three-year-old, Ruthie, has been saying every night, “Dear Lord, please help that cow so she doesn’t die again.”
I’ll end with some good news. We added a new bull to our lineup last weekend. Meet Rich. He is from Rich Red Angus @richredangus in Vinton, Iowa. This is the second bull we have purchased from Rich’s and we’re pretty excited about him. The first thing Laney said when she saw him was, “Muscle!” I think that’s a good sign.