Last night my midnight check turned up no action in the calving lot. A hour and a half later, while enjoying some TV, I hear bovine bloody murder cries. My first thought was the cows in the meadow had found some sort of creature to wage war on (our cows have been known to kill skunks and porcupines). Nonetheless, I decided it warranted investigation.
I got the spot light and shown it out the back porch into the cow meadow. Nothing. I put the light on the calving lot, bingo.
I ran to the mudroom and threw on my muck boots and coveralls (I keep them laid out fireman style). I went to the corral and flipped on the light to find two heifers in a brawl with a little newborn calf in the middle. I had never seen such violent behavior from heifers. To quote from Mean Girls, “The girls, they’ve gone wild! The girls have gone wild!”.
In the time since my last check, one heifer had calved and another had started to calve, having only her water sac out. The heifer who had just started was trying to claim the other heifer’s calf. The fight over the calf was practically to the death. Growling, head butting, tramping, crazy cow moos. All the other heifers were gathered around the match like an 8th grade schoolyard fight. The poor little calf in the middle of it all in its fragile, newborn state.
I made an attempt to break up the fight by running up to them, trying to get them to scatter. They were too involved. I rushed to the house to wake up my husband who had gone to bed just 30 minutes earlier.
While waiting for him to get up and dress I jumped in the pickup and drove it into the corral. I may not be able to take on brawling heifers, but the pickup can’t break a bone. I drove straight into the middle of the fight till the calf was laying on the ground just outside the pickup door.
With a quick prayer that I wouldn’t get crushed, I opened the door and grabbed the slimy, wet calf and pulled it into the pickup. Safe.
The poor calf was shaking. By the time my husband arrived in the corral, the two heifers were frantically running around bellaring, looking for the calf. I pointed out which one was the mother and took the calf to a stall in the barn.
We got the mother sorted off and put her in the stall with her calf. Angry cows have been known to kill their own calves. She definitely had her adrenaline pumping, and was not exactly “mothering” her calf but she wasn’t killing it either. We watched them for awhile to make sure the calf would be safe.
In the next hour the other heifer had her calf. The rest of the night you could hear the two of them mooing smack to each other all night. I hope that never happens again.
On another note, we drive though our cows and calves that have been removed from the calving lot daily to make sure they’re all there and healthy. My husband noticed one little calf who looked pretty gaunt. The calf felt hollow in the gut area, and the cow’s bag was heavy, a sign the calf had not been nursing. We decided to bring them in to the pens to help the calf nurse.
We used a tactic to lead the cow with the calf into the pens that would save us the time of saddling a horse. Since the cow was nice and cooperative, my husband picked up the calf and let the cow sniff it to identify it as hers. He slowly placed the calf on the tailgate of the pickup while letting the cow sniff it. I held the calf on the tailgate while we drove to the corrals. The cow followed along sniffing and licking her calf as we went.
For not eating, the calf sure had a lot of urine. It peed all over the tailgate, all over my pants, all over my boots, basically, I was covered in calf pee (better than poop, I think).
The cow had a little blood in her milk. This is somewhat common after calving as tiny vessels in the udders may had ruptured. Her udders had no signs of injury or mastitis. We were failing at getting the calf to nurse the cow in the chute so we tried giving it a bottle. It nursed down half a bottle of milk and decided he wanted to eat. The next attempt at getting the calf to nurse the cow went better.
Here is an article on some udder disorders in cows:
Merck Veterinary Manual, Disorders of the Udder
These things take patience. The calf has to be held in position and its mouth opened to get the udder inside. Sometimes the process can be frustrating but staying calm and having patience so the calf makes the decision to nurse will pay off more in the end than trying to force the calf to nurse. It can also be helpful to rub the calf’s hips as it nurses to mimic the cow who usually cleans her calf as it nurses. We got the calf to nurse for a bit.
It is not a good idea to just give the calf a bottle. We milked out the cow so she wouldn’t dry up. Most likely, we’ll have to do the same thing tomorrow. The calf should be hungry as it only got enough milk to make it through the night. The calf being hungry will make it want to nurse more vigorously and perhaps our next attempt tomorrow will go better.