The day before Randall, Paul, and my big adventure began innocuous enough. We went through the morning ritual of feeding and checking cows. Randall found a cow that was lying by herself on this morning, and we assumed she was contemplating calving. Randall looked at the cow at various times throughout the day, but 157 showed no signs of going into labor. Fearing that something might be amiss with the old girl, Paul and Randall herd the cow into the Home East catch pen so Randall can check on her after dark.
The next morning, Paul and I are feeding the heifers when Randall drives up on the 4-wheeler. Randall has good news in that 157 has delivered a healthy bull calf in the night. Randall’s’ bad news is that cow 179 has delivered a dead calf. We have a set of twins on a cow at our place so we decide to transplant one of the calves onto cow 179.
Randall, driving the ATV, leads Paul and me to where 179 is hovering over her lifeless calf. Paul and Randall put a halter on the limp form and tie the lead rope to the arm of the hydra-bed. Raising the hydra-bed arms towards the pickup bed lifts the calf into the air which causes 179 to become excited. I suppose the poor cow thinks her calf has suddenly come to life. Paul drives slowly towards the Home East catch pen with a hopeful cow trotting along behind us, mooing at an unresponsive calf.
Randall has driven ahead of us to move 157 and her calf, (this is the cow he had penned up last night) out of our way, so 179 won’t get side-tracked by this pair. When we arrive at the gate to the pen, Paul lowers the hydra-bed arms and deposits the large calf on the ground. He pulls the dead calf into the alley with 179 in hot pursuit and I shut the gate behind them. Randall walks up to us and tells us
that we were lucky not to have another dead calf. When he came to move 157, he found her calf tangled in the fence wire (this fence is wire netting). The silly calf jumped into the fence (why?), pushing his head through one of the squares of wire, with his four feet slipping through squares of wire lower down on the fence. Thus, the calf was literally hanging himself because his feet were not bearing any weight. The calf’s head was stuck so tight that Randall had to cut the wire under its neck to free the hapless newborn. If we hadn’t brought 179 to this pen the wire suspended calf surely would have died.
Paul drives off to hook up to the small stock trailer so we can load up 179 and the calf carcass, after which, we will haul them to our house. Randall still has cows to check so he buzzes off on the 4-wheeler. As I’m waiting for Paul to return, I hear the whine of the ATV coming back too. I know that a trip to Milton’s in such a short time is impossible, and Randall confirms my deduction with more bad news. He has found cow 417, running from field to field searching and bawling for her month old calf. Randall has driven over all the open areas where these cows can graze, but found no sign of the missing calf. Are you kidding me, how can one group of cows have so much trouble in one short morning!
Paul drives up with trailer in tow and we inform him of the latest crisis. As the two men go to load 179, I leave to walk the creek in search of 417’s lost calf. I estimate it will take me an hour to hike the entire creek bed, and ask that one of the men come look me up after an hours’ time. Walking slowly, I scrutinize exposed tree roots along the creek bank that can entrap a calf as tightly as a fly in a spider web. I also search any brushy/grassy area in the creek bottom where a sick calf may be lying.
The north fence line ends my meandering search with no sign of the wayward calf. I climb up the dirt bank to the brome field and see Paul’s pickup parked along the edge of the creek, a couple hundred yards south of me. Paul sees me walking towards him and drives over to pick me up. When I get into the truck, there is a baby calf lying on the floor with his legs tied together with a rope. Paul said that while looking for me, he came upon the calf standing in the timber near the creek bank. The calf has no ear tag, and none of the cows showed any interest in the hungry baby when Randall and Paul took the calf to the herd. The little bull must be an abandoned twin. Well, at least we won’t have to steal one of the twins off the cow at home. Paul and I drive home, place the calf in the empty trailer, and leave to finish feeding and check for calves on the cows at our place. When we have finished our chores we find Randall busy skinning 179’s dead calf. He tells us he brought another unclaimed twin from Schwankes which he put in the trailer with the first calf. This day is so weird!
Since we have no foster-mother for the calf from Schwankes, I mix up a bottle of milk replacer then climb into the trailer with the calf’s meal. After a short game of catch me if you can, I capture the twin, and place the nipple into his mouth. It doesn’t take long for the orphan to suck the contents of the bottle dry! It is obvious that both of these babies were licked off when they were born so they likely had one meal from their fickle mammas. A cow will leave the spot where they give birth as soon as they can get their calf to follow them (too much odor at the birth area which can attract predators). In the case of twins, one calf will often be left behind, and mom never goes back to retrieve the laggard. When the abandoned calf gets hungry, it will go in search of mom and her milk, but by then (maybe 2 days) mom doesn’t recognize or want them anymore.
Randall and Paul take the calf found on Randall’s’ brome out of the trailer, halter him, and tie the calf to the fence. They place the oversized calf skin onto the bewildered calf, tying the hide on him with twine, and take him to meet his new mom, (hopefully). The guys push the twin next to the steel paneled pen so 179 can sniff what is her dead calf’s hide. She gets one whiff of the imposter and begins talking to “her calf”. This instant adoption never ceases to amaze me. Now all we need is for the calf to accept the cow. We leave the pair alone and will check on them later. Hopefully, between a fussing cow and a hungry belly, the calf will take advantage of his situation by nursing 179, cementing the bond for both of them.
It is noon and I go into the house to put dinner on the table. Paul and Randall come in to wash up, but when they don’t come into the kitchen I go to see what is keeping them. I find Paul putting gauze and tape around Randall’s hand. It seems when Randall sharpened the skinning knife, he found out what a good job he had done by slicing a nice gash in his palm. After this accident, Randall finishes skinning the calf, helps put the hide on the twin, takes the calf to his soon to be mom, and just now tends to his wound. Honestly!
I’m not sure when the idea began to circulate between the three of us or who said what. I just remember phrases such as “417 is a nice, young cow, it would be a shame to have to sell her”, “she has a really nice udder with lots of milk”, “she probably won’t want the calf, but if we hold them in a pen long enough she will eventually tolerate it”. Through this conversation, we come to the decision to try to coax 417 to the same pen where 157 calved and we captured 179 this morning.
I drive the pickup with a bright green bale of alfalfa on the bed to tempt the cows. Paul and Randall are on the 4-wheelers, but are staying in the background in hopes the cows will follow me on their own. The cows start trailing the pickup, but it is very warm today, and they really aren’t hungry. One by one the bovines stop walking and watch me as I drive on slowly. I still have 417 and a few greedy cows behind me, but they too decide the long walk isn’t worth the reward. Paul and Randall idle up behind the small group of cows in hopes of keeping them moving behind the pickup, but the cows know something is up. The black cows scatter like quail so the men concentrate on trying to contain 417. I know 417 will pay no attention to me anymore, so I drive to the pen. I park the pickup where it will block one avenue the cow could escape through. I watch as Paul and Randall try to maneuver the cow into the little meadow. 417 would be trapped once in the meadow, but she is too smart to go through the gate. It becomes obvious that the cow is going to win this battle as she pivots and runs away from the machines chasing her.
Paul races up, jumps off the ATV, and announces that they are going to try to rope the cow. He grabs a lasso from behind the pickup seat, jumps back onto his Polaris, and takes off, with me following in the pickup. I’m not sure who roped the cow but I am instructed to run over the trailing rope with the truck tire, and then stop the pickup with the rope under the tire. This of course, would bring the running cow to a stop (we have done this in the past but Paul was always driving). Yeah right. When this tactic fails, the men manage to grab hold of the dragging rope, and for a short time they are sod skiing behind 417. She soon tires of pulling 300 plus pounds behind her and comes to a stop. I begin to back the truck up towards the human anchors and the cow so they can tie the rope to the bumper. This is somewhat intimidating for me, as I need to back up fast enough so they can gain enough slack to secure the rope, but not so fast that I end up knocking the guys down.
We finally coordinate enough to get the cow tied to the pickup, but she has a long leash so to speak. I watch Randall and Paul try to physically pull 417 closer to the pickup bumper so she doesn’t have so much room to maneuver. 417 says to heck with that idea, plants her feet, and pulls back. When a 1250 pound beast decides to stay put, no human is going to move them.
We go to plan B, which involves Paul racing off on his Polaris to get the much used little trailer, which is already hitched to Randall’s pickup. Randall keeps pressure on the rope so the cow will continue to pull back and not begin to run from side to side. We don’t need a smashed in door on the feed truck courtesy of the roped cow.
Paul returns in a few minutes with the Ford truck and trailer. He drops another lasso over 417s head, then starts to back the trailer in the direction of our captive. Randall is holding onto the lead of the second lasso, and when Paul gets the trailer close enough, he jumps onto the side rail of the trailer. Randal pulls the end of the rope around a side bar of the trailer and forms a loop, which will keep the cow from pulling free. As Paul continues to back up the trailer, I put my pickup in reverse, allowing the rope tied to the bumper to loosen. Randall keeps pulling the slack of his lariat tighter, and little by little, the cow is reeled in like a hooked fish. Once the cow is standing at the back of the trailer (the tailgate is open), Paul and I bring our pickups to a stop. Paul runs to untie the lariat from my pickup bumper then brings the trailer door around behind the cow. 417 jumps into the trailer when she feels the trailer gate bump her in the rear end, and Paul latches the tailgate. Round 2 is won by the humans.
After unloading 417 into the small working pens at home, the guys walk her down the alleyway, and catch her in the head gate. Paul put in removable boards when he built this alleyway specifically for times like this. The boards are taken out once a cow is secured in the head gate, which allows access to the cow’s udder, and lets humans help a calf nurse. The cow can’t wiggle around much, but you still have to watch out for a vicious forward kick if the cow decides she doesn’t want to cooperate. The little calf immediately grabs hold of one of the cow’s teats, and begins to fill its belly with milk. Yes, this calf definitely has nursed before. After all the rodeo and distress, 417 seems more than willing to allow the calf to suckle. The cow’s bag is so swollen with milk that milk was actually dripping out of her udder with every step she took.
Once the orphan calf has nursed its fill, Paul and Randall put the cow and calf together in the steel working pen. The cow doesn’t pay much attention to the calf, but she is very interested in her prime alfalfa that I tossed into the pen for her to eat. There is nothing to do now but wait and see what will happen between the two animals. We walk the fifty yards to the shed to check on 179 and calf . Good new, the bull calf has nursed, and seems as tickled with his mom as she is with him. I think we can finally call it a day.
The next morning, we are delighted to see that 417 has allowed the calf to nurse. Although she isn’t mothering the calf, the twin is sticking close to her side. We turn 179 and her adopted calf out of the corner pen to allow them the full run of the shed. They are definitely a pair now. Things are looking up!
Randall calls us on the two-way radio, telling us that he has found 417s calf in the Brashe brome. Oh for crying out loud! I think all of us turn a little red in the face as none of us thought about the calf crawling into the adjoining field. Randall says the calf is perfectly happy, mainly because he proves to be an accomplished milk thief, sneaking up behind the cows, and nursing between their back legs. In our defense, there is only a short stretch of fence bordering the Brashe fields and Randall’s brome, plus the cattle must cross the stream, and walk up a fairly steep bank to reach the fence.
Paul is laughing as he asks Randall if he can rope the truant. Randall agrees to try to, then radio us if he has any luck with capturing the runaway calf. A few minutes later an out of breath voice, Randall’s, tells us he has lassoed the calf, and has him tied to the pickup. Paul and I get that darned trailer again, and drive to the Brashe brome. This calf is a chunk, no wonder he gave Randall such a fight! The guys grab the lead rope of the halter and pull the milk thief into the trailer. Paul and I make the trip home, dump the calf in the working pen, and separate 417 from the out of luck twin, and place the cow with her real calf. 417 immediately talks, licks, and I hope scolds her calf that has been missing for two days. At first the calf doesn’t seem interested in mom, but after a few minutes he begins to nurse. We load the pair into the stock trailer and haul them back to Randall’s brome. What a waste of time all this was!
Paul and I come up with a devious plan for the twin that had a mom for a night. 179 has plenty of milk, and she is still in hormone overload for her calf. We still have the calf hide we tied on the calf she adopted, so we think, why not tie it on the left over twin? Once we tie the extra-large hide to the twin, we lead him out to the shed and turn him loose. 179 comes running over, sniffs at the newcomer, and begins to fuss over the calf. No Way! The cow then looks at the calf she adopted yesterday with what I can only call a very confused look. Paul and I both burst out laughing at her expression. When we leave, she is hovering over the calf with the false hide. Surely she won’t give up the other calf?
We check the cow and her adopted twins later in the day, and are delighted to see both calves kicking up their heels in play. The calves have full bellies of milk, and 179 seems content with the addition to her family. This is a first for Paul and me to try to put two orphan calves on one cow, and a day apart at that!
This is not the end of the story however, as the next morning Randall finds a cow at Milton’s with a stillborn calf. That is rotten news in itself, but the calf that was transplanted on 2 cows already, is about to be placed on a third cow. The two strikes calf gets a new calf hide tied to him, and is transported by Randall and Paul to a new pen, and put in with a new mom. 83 accepts her miraculous baby, and by now the thrice adopted calf is an old hand at accepting strange cows as his mother!
That is the end of the story, and if you are totally confused I wouldn’t be surprised. The good news is that 2 abandoned calves, found new mothers that had the unfortunate luck to have borne dead calves. 417’s adventure was partly due to human error, but also to a straying calf that is a milk thief, who didn’t care much about mom, as long as he was getting a meal.
The three humans involved in this day and a half adventure, will be more than pleased to never have that much “fun” again, in such a short period of time. Later, Nancy