Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Newborn Calves, keeping watch, and the Miniature Hereford

A neighbor of mine has a few miniature Herefords he bought recently. He has a nice set up a couple miles down the road where he kept a few head of traditional size beefers as well as the minis. This is the gentleman who bought our original herd sire, Mr. Bull.

As with all livestock owners, talk is usually about the weather, feed, cows, calves, fences, pastures, etc, and I was excited to hear his cows were due to calve soon.

I was very sad when I heard he had lost a young calf earlier this winter, part of a cow / calf pair he purchased to begin his herd with. Apparently the calf climbed into a feed manger and could not get out; after a very cold night, she did not survive despite his attempts at warming her when she was discovered the next morning. This gentleman has daily contact with his herd, (one has to drive right past his barnyard and barn en route to his house) so it must have happened after the feeding was done for the evening.

Today I learned his other heifer had calved, but the calf didn't make it. For some reason the calf did not get up to nurse quick enough; it did not get its first drink of colostrum (mothers first milk) till almost 24 hours...I didn't ask for the details, and felt awful for his loss.

As stated before, this fellow has daily contact with his herd, he sees them morning and evening, and in between if he's not at work. Still, he lost two calves. I mess with my animals at least twice daily, can see them for the most part from my windows with very few places they are hidden from view, and I too lost a calf that was born "out of sight" for a few hours.

It surprises me how often I hear folks talk of getting a few head to put on their "land" somewhere out of town, or somewhere they visit or vacation at once in a while....with not a soul around when they are at their real homes and jobs. Cattle are not mowing machines. One cannot just "drop them off" to fend for themselves (well, I suppose you can, if you don't mind injuries, missing breeding's or calves, loose animals, losses ,etc) just for the sake of "having" them. Any seasoned herdsman will agree; you have to tend to your stock. That does not mean dumping them off for the summer somewhere and "checking on them" on holiday weekends or, keeping one as a "mascot" (yes, really!!)...not unless you really don't care if you end up with less animals than when you started (which would be what point, exactly?)

Raising livestock should be treated as a business, your animals are an asset. You manage your assets for maximum return, and do what it takes to achieve that. And that, generally, means keeping an eye on things on a daily basis (I am speaking of farming out East...I know its a whole different ball game when it comes to ranching out West).

When I hang over a gate and stare at my animals ,(much to the chagrin of my family...) I am not daydreaming (well, most of the time I'm not unless its about a new barn with headlocks and concrete.....). I am taking care of my investment. Watching the way the animals move, eat, relate to one another. Are they up, down, ears normal, eyes clear, noses pink and damp? Are they chewing their cud, agitated? With the herd, or off on their own? Quiet or noisy and why? Its not work, it is insurance.....It is one reason it is hard (for me) to be away...gates closed, water tanks filled? Fencer working? No one here will be watching that closely, and for the most part everything will be fine....but I always wonder, and ask, "are the cows ok?"

There are times I help a newborn calf to its feet, or clean off its little snotty nose; help move it to a cleaner place so it does not skid on manure, or fall into a hot fence.... There are times that the calf, for whatever reason, cannot get to momma for that first critical drink of milk, which, ideally, should be within the hour of birth... On several occasions I have actually milked momma (remember, I had a dairy herd years ago) into a calf baby bottle and fed that calf colostrum, standing or not. It is that critical, I don't care how they get it in them initially!

It is good to be aware, be on watch, look after your livestock as much as you can. Especially here in the east, with the small size of the herds, the folks just starting out trying to build their herds; its very tough to loose even one cow or calf for whatever reason. And sometimes, even with the best care, you may. The best one can hope for is that you don't, but, if you do happen to suffer a loss, its a little easier knowing you were there, and did all you could. Sometimes nature just takes its course. Sometimes that calf will die in your lap while waiting for the vet to arrive....but at least you know you did all you could. Its frustrating; there have been a few times I've sat in the straw crying out of shear and utter frustration and exhaustion....but I knew, deep in my heart, I had done all I could possibly do.

".....Know well the condition of your flocks, And pay attention to your herds."

Proverbs 27:23

No comments:

Post a Comment