Thursday, March 14, 2013

How We Handle Calves

First, let me say that this is only the third time either of us have had to deal with newborn calves. Still, the same thoughts influence us each time. Violet is so interested in her calves that it would feel cruel to separate them right away, or even a few days in. This particular post will be about what has happened between us and these two calves in their first couple of days of life.

We tried not to intervene yesterday morning, so besides moving them into the barn, we did not handle them until we felt we really needed to. Then we did that work quickly, but trying not to hurry or startle anyone, and got Violet back with her calves. We went down and watched her and the calves at least once an hour all day long, but only once after evening chores.

During evening chores, we did our best to keep the calves close to Violet. She is much calmer already this time than the first two times we had calves, but she still does not want one of us between her and a calf. The boy nursed while I was milking last night, and I am eager for them to get as much milk as possible. I gave up any teat he was trying to latch onto. He sucked my jacket and wrist and checked here and there to see if I was hiding a teat anywhere. (Perhaps, I smelled a bit too much like Violet and the calves.) I did what I could to get most of the milk, as the calves will not eat as much at first, and Violet's bag looked huge and uncomfortable. Yet, I left some for the one still nursing.

This morning, the heifer was outside the barn, lying in the snow and ice. There are many problems with this. First, she could get quite cold. Second, if she got startled, even a wobbly little calf can cover a surprising distance in surprisingly little time; she was more likely to run away than toward her mom out of the barn than in the barn. Third, Violet was not happy to have her out of reach. Fourth, she's so little. We put up a third spring gate, and before too long, we purchased a cow panel and rigged it across the opening. We REALLY do not want a calf wandering around.

The cow panel also means we could easily lean some old plywood across the opening to block some of the wind. We're having a spell a winter, and it seems just a little more shelter would be good for these scrawny beasts. Mostly, we try to keep everyone outside as much as possible. Since these two were born at an inclement time of year, we're having to figure out just how much extra we need to do to help Violet keep them healthy. We also bought straw to use for bedding instead of old hay. Straw is expensive and most likely has round up in it, but it makes amazing bedding. We really want these guys to stay dry, so we're spreading straw twice a day.

This morning's milking was difficult, but peaceful. The girl calf nursed while I was milking, but she wanted to do it from the same side I was sitting on. I repeat- these two calves are quite scrawny and I was not feeling that my desire to milk outweighed her need to nurse. So, I worked around her. It was annoying and funny and I probably won't let that happen again.

This evening, the boy frolicked about the barn and the girl nursed while I milked. The cow panel meant no one was slipping out of the barn, and everyone was really calm. Calm is what we're after when dealing with cows. Calm is part of the reason we don't separate them at all at first. In a few days, Violet will mellow out some. With these two, we'll probably give them longer than the previous calves before we separate them for even part of the day. It is cold and it will be cold, at least in spells, for another month or so. They're pretty good size, but I want them to have some fat on them before they start spending nights with a fence between them and their mother. My heart tells me it's the right thing to do.

And at some point, it will be too much of a bother. Then, we'll re-evaluate, and most likely, we'll start separating them overnight and milk just once a day in the mornings. We'll just have to wait and see.

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