First, I need to tell you that our honey is the most delicious honey I have ever tasted in my whole entire honey-lovin’ life. It’s wild and sweet and fruity, with a bit of something else I can’t describe, and when Davey shows up with a little bit of honeycomb, I’m one of the first in line for a bite. I never thought I’d say that. Where I come from, we do not chew on beeswax, but, oh my gosh, this honey is so delicious. I think I shall never have my fill of the stuff.
In other news, Maybelle had her calf on Friday. I’ve been milking her all along, instead of drying her off, because she’s had a persistent low-level mastitis situation all year, and I was worried that if I dried her off, it’d flare up again. Well, she dried herself off, and it did flare up, but I had it under control in a few days. However, Friday morning, as I was prepared for the valiant struggle to empty the approximately one cup of milk from her three good quarters, she surprised me by letting down rather quickly and forcefully, and giving me four cups. “I bet she has her calf today!” I thought to myself. I checked on her in the afternoon, when I saw only two of my three cows grazing together. I found her in that fenced-off sinkhole, obviously not so fenced off anymore. She looked at me with the same innocent expression I remember from when Daisy was born, so I knew it was time, but a sinkhole? I shooed her out and fixed the fence as best I could without making any noise that would attract the other cows. Then I worried she’d break back in.
Alas, that night was also square bale night, so we were out for a couple of hours getting our hay. By the time we got back, Maybelle had delivered her calf – just outside the mended section of fence. Even better, it was a girl calf! Maybelle wasn’t quite done with her laboring yet, but it was late and I wanted to get them up to the barn for milking so I could make sure our new little lady got some colostrum, so that’s what I did. Mama and baby are doing fine, though I think Maybelle had begun to have some milk fever symptoms by Saturday night; we fed her a tube of calcium gel that I’d thought to get from the vet Friday morning, just in case, and that seemed to do the trick. For $10, better safe than sorry.
Mrs. Cpt PAO asked a relevant question a couple of posts back:
“Just curious – you take baby calves away from the mamas immediately following the birth? I know you have to wean them eventually, but didn’t realize it was so soon. Would you mind explaining why? I know I have a non-farmers soft heart, but I really am curious about the whole process.”
We used to be rather soft-hearted, too. Daisy spent several months with her mama, until I got so frustrated with my steadily shrinking cream line that I pulled her away and bottle fed her for a while. After that, we thought to leave them together for just the first few days, so the calf would get all the colostrum, and then separate them, but the next calf, Maybelle had such edema in her udder that she wouldn’t nurse her calf at all, and the calf after that was suffering from a mineral deficiency that nearly killed her. Daisy turned out to be a neglectful mother all around, abandoning her calf at the first sign of discomfort or trouble in order to save herself. We decided it would be all-around easier to just take the calves as soon as we can and tend to them ourselves. So far, it’s been working really well.
Firstly, we don’t actually wean them. While they are not suckling off their mamas, we do feed them the milk of their own mothers out of a bottle. No more than a gallon a day, or else they get sick. Beyond that, we’ve noticed lots of other benefits of this practice:
1) We can more easily monitor the health of both the cow and the calf.
2) We get the full amount of milk; mama cow isn’t holding back for her baby later.
3) The calves are well bonded with us, more so than with the other cows, and they are very easy to handle, even when they are boisterous adolescents. They also take to the milking parlor more easily, as they trust their people so well.
4) The mama cow is easier to handle, because she’s not overly bonded with her calf and she is not feeling defensive. Makes for an easier and less dangerous milking experience.
5) We’re able to store the extra colostrum, and though we haven’t needed it ourselves, that colostrum did save the life of a friend’s calf. Good to have on hand.
6) It is a whole lot of fun to bottle-feed and play with calves! They are sweet and spunky and affectionate and playful, and if we left them in the field, they’d be mistrustful and skittish, which is a lot less fun.
Many a homesteader has waxed eloquent about the natural beauty of a cow and calf pair grazing contentedly together in the meadow, and we, too, thought that would be just the loveliest thing, but the reality is not nearly so rosy. So we take the calves and become their surrogate mothers. The cows only mind for a few days, and then it seems like they really appreciate the free childcare service. It’s a win/win.