Bottle or Bucket?

Luna the Calf

Luna

Baby Luna came to us on the full moon, thus the name. I’ll admit, I’d been thinking about getting a milk cow, but note that thinking about something and actually doing it are totally different. It always came around to the fact that we have enough chores already. Being able to sit on the porch at the end of the day-drinking a glass of wine, watching the birds, the sunset, the chickens, whatever– is an extremely important part of life here, so adding a cow to the mix seemed like going after trouble. But what about when trouble comes after you?

It was last Friday evening, just as a magnificent moon was coming over the horizon, when my next-door neighbor Marilyn stopped by with the news. “There’s a calf in your barn, but she might not make it.”

SHE?  Marilyn’s brother Jack, a cattle farmer across the way, had called her to come rescue a calf whose mother couldn’t feed it. She and her sister Joanne found the baby down in the grass, sick and weak, so they picked her up, put her in the car and knowing we had an empty stall, brought her to our barn. I was instantly hooked. Never mind that the calf was barely alive and that it was a Black Angus, raised for beef, not dairy. To someone who knows less than nothing about the subject at hand, these are minor details! All I knew was that if I ever wanted a milk cow– this could be my chance. Maybe.

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Feeding Lesson

“I’ll feed her,” I said. “Just show me how.”

Paul Bunyan's Baby Bottle or the Bucket

Bottle or Bucket?

So she did. Marilyn gave me several lessons on how to “nurse” a calf, having done it many times growing up. The baby seemed to be having trouble with the nipple on the feeding bucket, so Joanne went to the Calves R Us and got a bottle with a nipple that looked like something Paul Bunyan would have used, a lead halter, and a fifty pound bag of formula powder. Thus began my learning curve in caring for a baby cow. At first, feeding time was a milk bath (for me), as I tried to find the best method. Nothing seemed to be working well. The milk was coming out of the bucket too fast, and out of the bottle too slow. I had a hungry calf on my hands that let me know she was unhappy by butting into me with her cute little head. “Patience,” Marilyn said. “She’ll get it.”

After consulting with Google University as well as some real life experts, I am pleased to find out that you can, indeed, raise a “beefer” as a dairy cow. So, assuming I don’t kill her with my ignorance in rearing livestock–we’ve got milk! I’ve been cautious about spreading the news because lots of things can happen at this point, but as Marilyn predicted, patience has paid off.  It’s been a week and she’s now sucking down her gallon- a -day like a champ. I move her from the barn to the back yard in the morning so she can play with the dogs in the sunshine or lounge in the shade of a tree if she wants. Her favorite spot is in the middle of my perennial bed. Oh well, the day lilies were just about done anyway. In the evenings she’ll follow me back to the barn for her supper.

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She’s Got it!

Since I now have a whole week’s experience at this, here are some basic calf-care tips I can pass on. Don’t expect them to act like puppies because they don’t. In fact, they stand around a lot–and stare at you, just like grown up cows. They are WAY stronger than they look. Don’t wear flip-flops to feed them, those little hooves come down hard. Also, plan on taking a shower after every feeding. A calf’s eyelashes will melt your heart, also the lock of curly hair on the forehead.  If you invite them into your yard, don’t get upset if they lie down in your flowers. You’ll know when they ‘re hungry because they start following you around. And as for  the bottle or bucket? For Baby Luna, it’s definitely–the bucket.

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