Feeding frenzy on the farm
On Wednesday, my husband called me and told me to please come straight home after work. He said one of our cows had given birth to twins, and he needed assistance getting the happy little family taken care of. I was surprised, not so much because we weren’t expecting calves for another month, but because my husband said please. (Just kidding, Sweetie!)
I went home bearing calf bottles, powdered colostrum and some other supplies. This cow had a set of twins one other time, and she had needed help feeding the babies.
He had already gotten them to the barn by the time I arrived. Putting the calves and some grain into the quad cart, he slowly led the mother across the fields and through the barnyard. Once they were in their pen, I went and mixed up the colostrum.
Colostrum is generally provided to the calves in the first day or so of the mother’s milk and contains the antibodies calves need for disease resistance until their own immune system kicks in. Calves that don’t get an adequate amount of colostrum in their first 24 hours are very likely to become weak and die because they can’t fight off any of the viruses or bacteria they encounter in their daily life. Because there were twins, I was concerned that there wasn’t enough to go around.
I pulled the weakest-looking calf out of the pen first. Black with a white face, she was more listless than her all-black counterpart, so I went to work on her. I rubbed her down with hay to stimulate circulation of her blood, and began to bottle-feed her.
It took almost an hour, but I got the full dose of colostrum into her belly. Then, I gave her back to her mother, who had been complaining the whole time the calf was gone by mooing in my ear and tossing her head in a show of irritation.
The second calf refused to stand to be fed. I’d get her on her feet, grab the bottle, and then down she would go like a wet noodle. I began to feel like I was in a Three Stooges routine after the third or fourth try. Eventually, I slung her over a bale of hay with her feet just off of the ground and was able to keep her upright. After nearly an hour, I had managed to get her to eat only half of her dose.
The next few days passed in nearly the same manner. We fed the calves twice a day, and the white-faced calf ate far more than the all-black calf. But they both seemed OK.
On Sunday, the all-black calf ate a quart of milk and then went directly to her mother’s udder and started nursing from her. That explained why she was never eating as much as the other calf — she was the one eating from her mama all along.
Knowing that they were both going to make it, we agreed to start calling them by the names our middle daughter had given them on the first day, Maisy and Daisy. The twins now come to the gate when they hear us coming, and will be like enormous puppies before long, loveable and giant nuisances at the same time. Stay tuned for more tales of Maisy and Daisy; past experience with bottle-fed calves assures me this is not their only story.
Laura Zoeller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.