Nursing Problems 3/1/2014

We filled 6 stalls in the cow barn last night. After lunch we turned 4 of them out to make room for tonight’s cold calving. Due to concern of frostbite on the baby calves’ ears, we taped them down to the neck. The idea is, if the ears are close to the body, they will stay warmer and not freeze. We held off ear tagging and just wrote their numbers on the tape. The calves look funny with the tape on, and I’m sure some fur will be sacrificed when we take it off, but losing a little fur is more bearable than losing half their ear.


Two pairs were left in the stalls. This first pair was the one we pulled last night. After an hour had past, the heifer hadn’t given the calf the attention it needed and it had not gotten up to nurse. Initial nursing is extremely important to start the calf’s body working, especially in a cold environment as a belly full of warm milk is essential.

The first few days after birth, the cow will produce a special kind of milk called colostrum. This milk had all the antibodies the mother has developed that are specific to fighting illnesses particular to the area of which she lives. This is like the genius juice for calves and a major boost in their immune systems. A serving of colostrum makes a calf 100 times smarter. It is a solid necessity for the calf within the first 24 hours of life.

Our calf we pulled had a lot against him. He had a difficult birth, which can cause swelling in the brain and make them slow to progress in the first few days. He was born at the coldest time of day to a first time mother whom, was herself, recovering from a very rough night. Attempts to milk the mother for colostrum were futile as she gave very little. But luckily, we have substitutes for natural colostrum. These substitutes come from dairies and aren’t as good because they don’t carry the antibodies specific to our ranch. At any rate, it is better than nothing.


Here is an article on colostrum:

Cattle Network, Colostrum Helps Newborn Calves

Iowa Beef Center Beef Cattle Handbook, Feeding Colostrum to a Calf

We always try first to get the calf to nurse a bottle, which he would not. The second option is to tube him. The tube has a bulb on the end that makes it too big to fit down the wind pipe, thus we can be assured it’s in the esophagus. We fill the bag with warm water mixed with powdered colostrum and bend the tube over so nothing runs out as we insert the tube down the esophagus. We also make sure all the milk is out of the tube before we remove it.


Here is an article on using an esophageal feeder:

Countryside Magazine, Tips on Using an Esophageal Feeder or Nasogastric Tube

We put him on the floor of the pickup and turned on the heater for him. We gave him a shot of Prevail (it’s like banamine) which is a non-steroidal/non-narcotic anti-inflammatory and analgesic. He spent the day there until afternoon when we tubed him colostrum again. Then he spent the night in the pickup with a heater.


The second pair was born early morning and we left them in the stall because the calf was still slimy and we wanted to make sure it nursed. That afternoon we gave it colostrum through a bottle because it would nurse the bottle. By nightfall, we had ran the heifer into the chute and helped the calf to nurse. We also gave it a bottle of milk replacer as well.

We use DuMOR milk replacer.

Here is a Guide to Milk Replacers

I hope the two calves gain their strength. We’ve done everything we can to help them get a good start on life, the rest is up to nature.

The rest of the pairs in the stalls were led out to the heifer lot after we taped their ears. Which leads me to my next point.

If you’ve never experienced calf poop, I’ll let you in on a fact. Calf poop is evil. It has a color that is like a dirty mustard. It has a scent that will make you gag. It is something to be avoided at any and all cost. Ranching law says anytime any body part of yours, comes within poop range of the calf, you will be targeted.

When we moved the pairs, we took them one by one to the lot. Calf in the back of the pickup, husband driving, my father in law bringing the cow by horseback. And of course, I got to wrestle and hold the calf. First pair, no problem, second calf, issues.

As soon as the calf was loaded in the back of the pickup it produced a large pile of evil. NOOOOOO! I made every attempt to keep the squirming calf from touching the pile during our ranch style WWE match (at 24 or less hours old, calves are remarkably strong). Legs flailing, I see one hoof swing through the pile. At this point I’m holding the calf down from as far towards the head as I can. His swinging poop-smeared leg coming inches from my coveralls. I cringe for the inevitable. Then it happens, we hit a bump. I looked down just in time to see the entire hoof smear mustard yellow all down my pant leg. I just sat there gagging until we got to the lot. Calves are not always as cute as they look.

Fun fact: Some people take bovine colostrum as a supplement saying it does more good for the immune system than a flu shot. Nobody uses calf poop as a supplement, unless their intent is to induce vomiting.


One thought on “Nursing Problems 3/1/2014

  1. Pingback: When Predator Becomes Prey | Calving2014

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