Moo-ve away from that calf
Sunday morning dawned crisp and cool, and was scheduled to the max. Still, I stayed in bed until nearly seven – quite a late morning by my usual standards – before crawling downstairs toward the coffee pot and the griddle. A half-hour later, I was drinking liquid happiness and frying hash browns.
When breakfast was nearly ready, I called for the kids to get dressed and come down to eat. My husband had already checked on the barnyard animals and was heading to the pasture to check on the cows. I dished up the potatoes and sausage and started cracking eggs.
He returned a few minutes later with good news. Not one, but two calves were born the night before. One appeared to be particularly new, as it was still wet. We would have to go give them an up-close check, and it would have to be that morning. Sayonara, schedule!
We grabbed the supplies we needed, including a couple of syringes of medicine, along with a tagging gun and a handful of ear tags. We color code our calves to help us see from a distance whether we are looking at a heifer or bull. The tags are also numbered, which helps us determine which calf belongs to which mother and helps us figure out who raises the nicest calves and who may be struggling.
The problem is no matter how nice and docile a cow is on a normal basis, when she has just had a calf, she can become quite protective. If a cow won’t let us touch her baby, it indicates she would likely protect it from predators as well. And while we never want to be the cause of agitation in any of our animals, we take it as a good sign when they are uncomfortable with us handling their calves.
The first cow mooed at us and paced nearby, but didn’t approach while we attended to her calf, for which I am thankful. The other was not so patient.
My husband tried to lead the second cow a few feet away with some grain, but apparently I was too close to the baby for her comfort. I reached down to check its sex and looked up just in time to see the impact the mama’s head made with my shoulder. I was knocked backward a few feet, which was just enough to cause me to lose balance and send me over the creek bank. Fortunately, I kept my footing and stayed predominantly dry.
Knowing she was simply warning me (had she intended me harm, I would not be writing this column right now), I scrambled back up the bank and saw my husband leading the mama away again. As soon as she saw him heading back toward her baby, she turned toward us, staring at us suspiciously.
So we waited. After a few more minutes, she must have decided we meant no harm and turned back to her special breakfast. We quickly did what we came for and retreated. I was pretty glad to leave mama and baby alone, and I walked backward the whole way out of the field.
Laura Zoeller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.