Ensuring a Strong Start

This past week we welcomed our 18th and final calf of the 2018 season, nearly a month after our 17th calf. A heifer, making the total 10 heifers and 8 bulls. This year we are on the letter H in our naming system.

18 Hs: Halo, Harold, Hazy, Hera, Heinz, Hugo, Howie, Hena, Heidi, Hector, Holly, Harmony, Hannah, Harvestore, Harley, Henry, Heather…and when #18 arrived I asked our oldest daughter what we should name her. Keep in mind my daughter is 3. She doesn’t capture much of the concept of what names and words start with which letter and certainly doesn’t comprehend naming our calves on a lettering system. With that said, when I asked her what we should name her, she answered with “Hillie.” I don’t know where that name came from but I knew it started with an H and I knew it was a good name for this new life.

On her first day of life, we moved her from the barnyard where mama decided to have her out to the pasture with the herd. On day two we noticed an issue. She seemed to be weak and not wanting to bear weight. After some consideration, we moved mama and babe back to the barn and put them in the stalls. Once there it was obvious something was wrong with Hillie’s leg.

I was concerned. Those initial first days are vital in getting the calf off to a good start, feeding, standing, putting on weight, and gaining strength. We could not be certain if the calf was able to nurse so we fed her some colostrum mix that evening and again early the next morning. I called the vet and the made it out in the late afternoon confirming what we thought was likely–a broken leg. She would need a cast and there was no hesitation. Of course, she would get one. I assisted the vet in getting the cast on and prayed that she’d be able to adapt to it and nurse without hindrance.

No cast experience is complete without some signatures and drawings from your peeps!

The cast is heavy and while she was able to move around, it wore her out and she seemed inclined to rest. Despite having mama and babe confined, and watching when we could, we were unable to witness her nursing or be certain that she was able to. We thought we might have to bottle feed indefinitely, or at least until she got the hang of the cast and built enough strength.

We opted for a DIY method first. We put mama in a chute/headgate. She was less than thrilled with the experience but settled in once we got that baby in place. She stood still and was patient as we worked to get the calf into position. It was not the ideal angle, nor as open at the bottom and side as would have been helpful, but we got the calf on and she seemed to grow more eager as she fed. After she had the hang of it, we decided to try to milk the other quarters by hand to collect milk in case we needed to continue feedings by bottle.

I worked at it feeling pretty satisfied when I was finally able to get a few squirts out and wet the bottom of the pail. That was until my husband took over and I witnessed the milk come out like a hose while he milked the front and rear quarters simultaneously. I had no idea he had such skills! 🙂 A skilled acquired as the son of dairy farmers and one that you never lose when you trade dairy farming for beef.

The calf was able to empty one full quarter and half of another and Cody was able to completely drain two allowing us to collect about two gallons of milk. All the while, our mama cow, Eva, stayed calm and seemed to understand what we were trying to do. Certainly, she did her part to ensure a good start for her baby girl. The strong drive our cows have to nurture and protect is never wasted on me–I was so proud of her.

When it was all said and done, Hillie was exhausted and ready for a nap. Before letting Eva out of the chute, we borrowed some of our daughter’s sidewalk chalk, muddled it with a bit of water and painted Eva’s udder so that we could determine if Hillie was able to nurse. This morning we were very pleased to see an utter cleaned of chalk! (The success of the chalk paint idea might have made me feel a bit cocky. We farmers have to be resourceful and creative at times.)

Hillie, like most animals, is resilient, adaptable, and instinctually programmed to survive. It’s going to be a tough six weeks maneuvering with a heavy cast and Eva will be longing for green grass well before the time is up, but the vet says we may never be able to tell she had the break when it’s all said and done. And anytime you have to be this hands-on with an animal, you’re guaranteed a new pet! Our daughter has certainly enjoyed the opportunity to get her hands on a calf and help with the doctoring.

These animals are our business. There is a lot of humanity in this business, however. Ensuring quality of life and giving gratitude to the sacrifice they make is weaved into our operation. We love these lives and feel honored to be a part of all we get to witness and experience through the enrichment they create within our lives.


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