The last 6 days have been a whirlwind on our farm. Unfortunately, we did not get the ending that we had hoped for. This is not going to be a happy post, but it will be an honest one.
Last Wednesday as I was getting out of the shower J called me and told me that he was going to pull Jewel’s (our pregnant full size cow) baby. She was in labor and it was 8 degrees outside before windchill. He was afraid that she would not have the calf until we left for work and that we would come home to a frozen, dead calf. So I quickly dressed myself and hurried to the barn. By the time I got there there was a beautiful little heifer(female) calf on the ground and mama was nowhere to be found.
Eventually, we made the call to bring her inside and dry her off. We desperately wanted mama to take care of her, but she was pretty shaken from the morning’s events and wouldn’t even come near the barn. A few hours later than optimal we finally got a bottle of colostrum in the calf. After about 12 hours it became apparent that the little calf didn’t want to drink a bottle. So we decided that we needed to tube feed her or we were going to lose her. for the next 24 hours we fed her with a feeding tube at meal time as she continued to not show any interest in her bottle.
Finally, we made a breakthrough; Seth spent a half hour working with the calf and got her to drink an entire bottle. From there things started getting better. Three days ago she started actively seeking out the bottle when we walked in the room and we no longer had to stick it in her mouth to get her to nurse. Two days ago we caught mama up in the head locks and showed the baby mama’s udder and she went to town for 25 solid minutes of milk guzzling happiness.
Yesterday morning she downed a bottle and was ready for more. Yesterday night I walked in her pen and she was laid out on her side. We got her up and took her out to mama where she showed very little interest in drinking. Jonathan took her back to her pen and offered her a bottle which she rejected. He grabbed the feeding tube and tube fed her a bottle and gave her an antibiotic but her condition continued to get worse. He came up to the house to mix some electrolytes and as he walked back into her pen she passed.
The last six days we have gotten very little sleep. We have hardly seen the inside of our house except to do laundry and feed our pets. We spent countless hours and a pretty good chunk of money on the calf. We have talked to dozens of people that have more experience with beef cattle. Our parents, neighbors and friends have spent hours helping us do what we could to keep this calf alive. In the end we have a beautiful little calf carcass behind our shed and 3 really good lessons learned.
- God (and nature) will win every time. Over the last six days we have experienced fear, frustration, joy and disappointment. We have done everything we knew to keep this calf alive and thriving. We still lost the calf. Sometimes things are out of your control and sometimes that sucks. God has a plan and apparently this was part of it. We have to accept it and move on.
- Efficiency is a huge problem on a small farm. While having a small farm meant that we did not have other calves to look out for at the same time, this was our only calf this year unless we get Ferdie (our mini cow) bred. Had this calf been our source of food for the year, we would be in trouble. We also did not have the resources that larger farms have. We did not have a squeeze chute to secure mama so we could teach baby to nurse. J took a pretty violent kick to the leg because of it. We did not have colostrum replacer, which is why her colostrum intake was delayed. We had to go to a neighboring dairy farm to get a bag. There were a lot of things that would have gone smoother if we had the resources of a larger farm, but we don’t so we made do with what we have.
- Perspective. As one wise old Amish guy once told Jonathan after he euthanized the man’s favorite horse, “There are house problems and barn problems. This is a barn problem.” As mind bogglingly frustrating as the last six days have been, we are still okay. We are healthy and there are good things happening in our lives and the lives of those we love. We can still pay the bills, we have food on our table and a roof over our heads. We may have a barn problem right now, but our house problems are limited. We are blessed in so many ways.