It turns out that not all cows are created equal when it comes to rearing a calf.
We’re only at the very beginning of our calving season 2019 but it’s already clear to me that actually the most challenging part of calving isn’t the birthing process (which of course can be stressful as things don’t always go to plan!) but the aftercare of the calves once their born – especially when their mother is a twat!
To ensure that a calf get’s the best possible start in life it needs to be up and suckling it’s Mum within a relatively short period of time – we ideally look to ensure this happens with 30-45 minutes as long as everything was normal with the birth. Then after that they should feed every 4-6 hours which if the calf is ‘right on’ and the cow is maternal with lots of milk this can all work beautifully, as nature intended, with perhaps a little help from us in the first 24 hours. Then usually they’re away.
We have one new calf though, Pluto, who despite his best efforts to keep up his end of the bargain – catching the teat as he should, up and ready to feed at good intervals and with a vigour for life which is incredible – his Mum is just not playing ball.
It’s worth highlighting that she is a heifer – aka first time calver – so this is all new to her and like a lot of other heifers they’re a bit unsure what’s going on at the start. However it doesn’t normally take very long, with some guidance from us to get the all important mum/calf/sucking thing to work.
Pluto’s Mum is clearly very special though, because nearly two weeks in to his life, she seems to have almost completely and utterly rejected him and it’s breaking my heart!
How can she not be maternal towards this litte face!!!!
So when I say rejected him, Pluto’s Mum despite our best efforts just will not let him suck. She kicks him, wont stand still and does nothing to show him any motherly love. I don’t understand it, but guess it’s not emotional for cows like it is for us, purely instinctive and perhaps she just doesn’t have it?
Pluto’s Mum is halter broken, so we’ve tried tying her up which has helped and she has stood still long enough for him to suckle. We’ve bribed her with corn and we’ve now resorted to running her down in to our crush as a last option as we wanted to try and intervene as little as possible.
But it’s like she’s willed herself off her milk too – so whilst we can engineer opportunities throughout the day for Pluto to hit ‘the milky bar!’ she no has no milk for him. So poor little Pluto has at times been really hungry and whilst we’ve tried to bottle feed him milk, it’s not been the same and he’s been crying out for more of his mother’s milk.
It’s such a horrible noise to hear, and at times it’s literally made me cry, as I’m stood in the shed, just Pluto his Mum and I, doing my best to get her to stand still and stop kicking long enough for Pluto to get his fix, but then feeling so frustrated when she repeats the same negative behaviours towards him again and again and AGAIN!
I’ve wanted to hit her! Shocking I know and have had to leave the shed a couple of times because it’s made me so angry. I feel at quite a loss about what to do.
I’m reassured to hear that we’ve had other heifers in the past who have perhaps not been the best mums at the start of their calving lives and have gone on to be some of our best breeders and eventually have accepted their first calf. One of whom is rearing a beautiful calf as we speak and their maternal instinct is amazingly strong so perhaps there is hope for her yet.
However it doesn’t help little Pluto in the meantime.
So for the time being, we’re preserving with his Mum in the hope that one day we’ll wake up and walk in to the shed and Pluto will be there sucking, naturally, as he should be – the DREAM!.
And we’ve also found Pluto a surrogate Mum.
One of our old girls whose been around the block a bit, has udders full of nutritious milk for her own calf and Pluto and whilst she isn’t maternal towards Pluto, isn’t trying to kick his head in anytime he goes in for some milk.
This is her – she’s my hero – the dream cow to work with and is literally saving the day and Pluto’s life.
I mentioned earlier that Pluto had vigour for life that was incredible. Well he’s amazing really, we’ve put him in a shed with his Mum and some older cows, including his surrogate, and he’s getting wise to being able to poach from the cows when he can. He knows when we’re around it’s feeding time and will come skipping over to us ready to feed and he seems pretty non-plus about his Mum not giving a shit – feel like the boy has got attitude.
I’m interested to see how things will play out for Pluto and his Mum, and am doing my best not to put too many human emotions in to the situation and loose my patience with Pluto’s Mum. It only upsets me so much because I care and I feel quite at a loss as to how to make it better.
But I’m encouraged by Pluto’s fighting spirit and can see him getting bigger and stronger by the day.
Poor little Pluto, he’s had a rough old time of it really, but I feel like this story will have a happy ending for him one way or another and look forward to sharing an update with you all on how things are progressing in due course.
Thanks for reading.