Sadly, we lost one of the baby calves yesterday. Number 24 (yet unnamed), a gorgeous copper colored Jersey bull, was fine the evening before, but dead when Mike arrived in the morning. We don’t know what happened. We had a terrific thunderstorm, but there is no evidence of a lightning strike. He had no signs of illness, no coughing, no nasal discharge, and he had a good appetite and was walking around when we saw him last. Mike kept the body so it could be examined by the university’s animal diagnostic center. Hopefully, he was not contagious.
Our seller tells us that Jerseys calves can be harder to raise for some reason and recommends that we buy cross breeds for beef cattle in the future. He is a good guy and stands by his sales. He will replace the little guy in the next load or two he brings over. He wants to keep our future business and be known in the area as a reputable cattle dealer. He’s even offered to take 24 the hour’s drive to the university.
Meanwhile, Mike gave all the new arrivals a shot of antibiotic yesterday and they will continue that treatment for four days. When I went with him yesterday afternoon, after he gave them their shots that morning, they were less willing to follow him like puppies, eventhough the older calves in the next pen gathered closely around the gate between the two pens when they saw him pick up a feed sack. You would have thought he was on skid row passing out hundreds! Sam the Charolais even poked his head through to get a pat on his shoulder before meandering over to scratch on a post. Sam’s best buddy, Spot, on the nursery side wandered out by the truck to see me and maybe tease the dogs who barked uproariously at the sight of him. Most of the calves on both sides of the gate appeared healthy and are filling out nicely.
It concerned me, however, that Mike had to pick up a calf set it on its feet to go to the food trough. A second calf, though moving on its own, didn’t seem to have the bright eyes these beautiful animals are known for and lingered on his hay bed before rising to eat with the others. We checked them again later, though and everyone was up and eating and ignoring the near-tornadic thunderstorm that hit while we were there. Even as the sheets of rain blew across the fields, swirling trees and branches and sending debris flying, they calmly kept their noses in the trough. A couple let loose of some cow patties that also pointed to the state of their health. I know that scours, a kind of bloody diarrhea, is rather common in very young calves, but there is no evidence that any of them are suffering from it. Maybe with the cooler temps they just wanted a longer afternoon snooze and Mr. Not-so-bright-eyes was only groggy from his nap.
The storm lasted only a few minutes and moved quickly on, but left some debris on the road home. It was minor stuff, no trees down or other worrisome damage. We found out after we were home and saw several broken limbs by the house that we had been under a tornado warning. Had we known, or had I been alone in the house, I probably would have freaked-out. As it was, neither I nor the storm-panicked dogs felt any concern–just awe at the aftermath of it and a feeling that no matter what we humans accomplish, Nature can undo it in a moment.
It seems fitting that the storm came the same day as Twenty-four passed away. The sweet little bull left us as quickly as he arrived, leaving only a merest reminder of his presence. His loss was disheartening, but it is up to us to see the brightness of the sun behind the storm and the hope it symbolizes. Two dozen other calves testify to that brightness and that, in spite of troubles, life goes on. They are the other twenty-four, many of whom will breed calves of their own one day.
In some ways the loss of Twenty-four was easier than losing Nando. Both died within a week or two of their arrival, but we saw the suffering of Nando and could do nothing to prevent his death. We doted on him, doctored him, fed him, and held him, and in doing so became attached to him. Twenty-four, on the other hand, was here and gone.
I’ve had several people ask me if one of the named calves faced a butcher to go on our dinner plates how I would handle it. Mike and I even discussed it yesterday. I have come to realize that it is not the naming of the animals that hurts when they have to be sold for beef, but the time spent nurturing them. There is an emotional disconnect when the animal is there for awhile and then gone. In that regard, it might be easier for me to eat a Daisy steak than it would be for Mike. Twenty-four has taught me that. So if it should come down to dinner of Daisy, unless I remind myself otherwise, she would have just gone away and the packaged meat would still just be meat, no different from that purchased in the grocery store. Though I prefer to think of our calves all as breeders, once they leave the farm, it is out of my control. Since I have no intention of becoming a vegetarian, I will have to discipline myself to remember that.
PS If my post was a little ‘downer’ today, I apologize. Check out this light-hearted view of raising highland cattle: http://aztextpress.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/running-with-the-bulls-or-in-my-case-heifers/