The fragility and strength of a calf

I was out on a routine tour of the farm measuring pasture growth when I saw an unfamiliar white rectangle in the distance. It turned out to be a calf all alone in the milker’s overnight paddock, rump turned towards the icy rain you get in snow weather. It was two-thirty in the afternoon and, somehow, a cow that should not have been anywhere near ready to calve, had calved during the night and been brought in for the morning’s milking leaving her newborn in the paddock.

This can happen. Pregnancy testing is not perfect. Maternal instincts vary. Calves hidden in the grass are almost impossible to see at the 5.30am roundup. All so excusable but face-to-face with the abandoned newborn, unforgivable, too.

The calf was a strong, snowy-white heifer who seemed relieved to see me and stood quietly as I gathered her in my arms, staggering under her 40kg weight. There was about a kilometre’s travel along the track to the warmth of sheds, so the only option was to hold Snowy tight on my lap as I drove. I say “on my lap” a little loosely. The gangly calf had her rear trotters on the floor by my right foot and her neck pinned under my left elbow.

All went remarkably well until I took my foot off the accelerator as we reached an electric rope stretched across the track and Snowy decided to seize control, stomping on the pedal hard, sending us careering into the rope at high revs. A few moments later and me feeling a little less casual about my copilot’s role in the journey, we were on our way again. As we rounded the knoll, the sun broke out and I saw the first arrivals for the afternoon milking clustered at the yard entrance.

Would Snowy’s mother be there? Urging Snowy under the wire towards the cows, I hoped for a miracle and out of the group marched a mostly white cow freshly painted with question marks. There are lots of signs, some of them quite subtle, when a cow is ready to calve and Wayne had spotted some changes in Snowy’s mother that morning.

Snowy's mother claims her.

Snowy’s mother claims her.

Watch here as Snowy briefly follows an aunt before being tucked back in again for a drink by her mother.

Snowy and her mother spent the evening together and both are now doing really well. Calves are resilient little creatures but they really do need extra TLC in their first few days to set them up for long, healthy lives.

6 thoughts on “The fragility and strength of a calf

  1. Great story
    I’ve done the same with lambs – often they go through a mesh fence – because they can – and are then physically separated from the flock which may move on. It’s very satisfying when you get them to mother up.
    If you can’t get them to reunite with their mother it’s much more difficult to ensure lambs survive as even when bottle fed with the right formula mortality can be significant.
    Your story also reflects the care most farmers give to their animals. It goes some way towards balancing the efforts of the vegetarian/ vegan organisation Animals Australia to paint the livestock industry in the worst possible light.

  2. A lovely and heartwarming story thanks Marian – wonder if you’ll get any good remarks on this post about what a great job you’re doing ? Bet not!

      • I thought I had made reference in the above to the good comment-making coming from the ones in the vegan/vegetarian/animal libs movements. I erred. Sorry Marian but I did mean specifically from those type of people because then they’d see you for what you are and know you’re a goodie!

    • Hi Julie, Yes, getting enough colostrum to the calf is so important. We’re split calving for the first time this year. Will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

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