A calf that needed rescuing

Normally, when the Black Angus mother cows deliver their calves, nature takes over and they immediately tend. The accompanying low moo as she talks to her new calf, along with mother’s sandpaper-tongue’s first bath gets the vital organs working and the blood chugging through the offspring’s system. As the calf struggles to stand, the mother cow nudges her gently toward the colostrum milk, and she receives life-sustaining nourishment.

Rarely does a mother cow abandon her youngster but occasionally, we do see that happen. Such was the case the other day.

My husband pronounced the arrival of another calf, “A heifer calf!” to me one day as I returned from work. Watching it intently as he does, he noticed it had trouble standing. It would stand for a while, then flop back down. Otherwise, the calf looked healthy.

He figured the mother might have stepped back after giving birth and unknowingly, landed on its offspring’s lower leg or hoof. The mother had stood close to the calf for the first while and when the calf, to her thought processes, had showed no interest, she gave up and simply neglected it, which made me very sad.

Husband was concerned. He waited, watching. After two days, he realized nature needed some help and decided to take action. Buying a bag of milk replacer, a bottle and pail, he texted me.

“What’re you doing after work?”

I knew that didn’t mean: Honey, you just put your feet up after a long day.

What it meant: I need your help.

That night after work, I followed him down to the cow pasture in the skidsteer. Opening up the gate, he motioned for me to drive through. Keeping a close eye on the herd, I was very apprehensive. My husband, however, confidently set out toward the calf, who was lying close to the fence on the far side of the pasture. I had the thought the mothers in the herd would take notice and stampede over trying to defend the youngest. After all, we were trying to steal one of their own.

Getting to the calf, I lowered the bucket and husband slid the calf in. I shouldn’t have worried about the herd. They were grazing and when they heard the skidsteer in their pasture they looked up, ears flickering for just a moment and then casually resumed eating. I was relieved and then annoyed to realize they didn’t even mind we were basically kidnapping a relative.

My husband walked alongside the bucket as we made our way back up the hill and to the heifer barn, making sure the calf didn’t struggle to get out or fall out of the bucket. We deposited her into the first of three pens in the heifer barn, on top of some leftover hay so the little one had a nice bed to lie in.

This heifer barn is where we had raised our calves once they were off milk and were big enough to handle outdoor conditions, going up the ranks until it was time to get bred. We use it now to separate the animals, such as when the calves are too old to suckle and need to be apart from their birth mothers. The mothers then will begin their next breeding cycle. This barn is also where we housed our big red Seminole bull for a while, to separate him from the cows.

For the time being, the other two pens held just three calves about 800 pounds each. Not such little animals, and they were just on the other side of the fence where we had deposited the new arrival. They came over investigating and were close enough to get me nervous. There are two heifers and a steer, and the steer looked feisty. My imagination makes these animals appear more threatening than they really are; the encounter with that one a while ago looms in my mind when I step foot inside the heifer barn.

Now we have this rescued heifer calf, whom we’ve named Lilly Pad, who must be bottle-fed twice daily. We don’t have hot water accessible in the barn any longer, so it has to be hauled from the house to the shed where we have the milk replacer and supplies needed to stir up the batches of milk. It would have been a whole lot easier if the momma would have done what mommas are supposed to do.

One night, it was my responsibility to feed the calf. Without not a little anxiety, I stirred up the milk replacer supper and, pouring it in the bottle, I prayed, “OK, Lord, calm me down and keep me safe.”

Making my way inside the pen, the bigger three looked up and stood there. I started feeding the calf and they began moseying closer but then stopped abruptly, ears cocked forward toward something coming in the pen. Molly! My beloved yellow lab, my ever-reliable companion was there checking things out. She never ventures into the heifer barn, ever. She came to be with me, bless her heart. They focused on her the entire time and left me completely alone.

Because guardian Molly was with me, I took my time, and after feeding I scratched the fluffy forehead of little Lilly Pad. I was transported back in time to feeding calves in the barn. It was not an unpleasant memory. I sort of miss those little calves! (OK, the ones that ate with gusto I miss, the ones that were stubborn I tend to forget about.)

For now, Lilly Pad must be helped up to eat. My hope is that she will gain strength and her leg will heal and she can join the rest of the herd. Otherwise, very soon it appears I’ll have a pet on my hands!

(“And He said to them, ‘Which of you, having a son or a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not at once pull him out on the Sabbath day?’” Luke 14:5)