Another batch of baby calves arrive this afternoon. It may sound a little rhetorical to call them both babies and calves, but the point is these are smaller versions of what we already have. I am excited (like always) to see them when they arrive. The last group gingerly stepped out of the trailer and headed straight into the ‘nursery’– all but one who refused to leave the trailer and had to be picked up and set down in the yard. Twice he tried to get back into it. Even an hour or so after the seller left, he stayed by the fence calling in the direction of the sellers truck, like a child left in day care: “Daddy, don’t leave me!” He settled in after a day or so and became one of the ‘puppies’ following Mike around.
Spot is the lead ‘puppy’ most days. His affection is not just for the food in the bag on Mike’s shoulder. He loves to be petted and will almost lean against you waiting for you to stroke his shoulders and neck. His reddish brown hair feels somewhat like that of a German Shepherd, but a bit more silky. Now, before you go thinking I spoiled him by petting him, I swear, he came that way! Honest!
Most of the calves when they arrive will ‘allow’ you to pet them. Sometimes. That is one of the reasons I like to be there when the little ones arrive. I get to pet most of them that first day. Afterwards, not so much. Most wander away from anyone in their ‘yard’ as a defense mechanism. Not Spot. Spot he seeks out the attention and will greet Mike’s truck when he arrives and follow him until he gets a good pat. Only one other calf seeks that out, and he is not in the nursery but with the rest of the herd. Horn, the first little bull to begin sprouting horns follows Mike wherever he goes. (The calf’s real name ends in an ‘ey’ but I wasn’t sure about WordPress’ filter.) If Mike is filling their water tank, Horn** is there. If Mike is carrying feed, Horn** is there. If Mike is fixing the fence, Horn** is there. You might say, Mike and Horn** go hand in hand, editorial comments aside! It is rather fun to stand by the enclosure and call out, “Hey, Horn**!” and see which one responds, though.
It actually concerns me that the lanky teenage bull is so attuned to Mike’s movements, although it is kind of sweet right now. What happens when Horn** is closer to maturity? What if, instead of following, he decides to charge? Mike is acutely aware of the potential danger too, and keeps an eye on the young bull as he goes about his daily routine. I suspect if Horn** were to charge even once, he would make someone a rather nice, lean Angus burger shortly thereafter.
Speaking of Angus…I learn a lot about cattle raising from the internet. I learn about breeds, breeding, behavior, and other bits of information that might take years to learn from local farmers. I figure if I have to “hit the ground running” on cattle-raising, why not consult the internet? When I can, I verify the information with people involved with cattle for years and I try to glean the information from government and scientific sites. So I was suprised at what I read the other day. It seems the term “100% Black Angus” really means the meat came from cattle that were 51% black. Similarly 100% Charolais would mean the cattle were each at least 51% white. Seems just as in appliances and used cars, we pay more for color. The question, then, is, in the grocery store, “How much is color worth to you?”
The seller asked us this morning if we would be interested in some bottle-calves. From what I understand these are the most difficult to raise because of their susceptibility to pneumonia, feeding and their overall weakness. We do not have the facilities for tiny babies, either. I can’t help wishing we did, although I would want only one until I knew better what I am doing. They must be bottle fed twice a day, every day without fail, until they can be weaned to dry hay and grass. They also have to be kept warm (or cool) and dry and watched meticulously for any signs of illness so they can be treated immediately, if necessary. They may walk sooner than a human baby, and certainly do not need diapers, but they still need that near-constant attention. Being a mother myself, I know the work involved. Heck, I even survived twins! I also suspect my attachment to a calf I hand-raised would probably be very strong. I could never see it as a potential certified 100% Black Angus. Still, there is the ‘science’ of trying to raise one successfully and applying that knowledge later to more of the little guys to add to an expanding herd.
In order to raise a bottle fed calf (or more), however, there needs to be a shed, preferably with a concrete floor (in the winter especially cattle grow better on concrete rather than on the ground) and a fenced in area, as much to keep predators away as to keep the young calves enclosed. When coyotes decide to go after livestock, calves are one of their favorite meals, and there is no shortage of coyotes on this farm. At dark last night, they were yipping away at the sound of a passing train in the distance. I felt rather proud of myself for not panicking hearing them so close to the house and for scaring them off by yelling at them! In any case, bottle-calves need a shed.
Their shed needs to be divided so that sick calves can be separated from healthy ones and needs places for storage. If the shed is also used to over-winter the larger herd members, it also needs electricity in order to keep water tanks from freezing and would not hurt for us to see in the early morning and late afternoon darkness of winter. Right now, the expense outweighs the benefits of raising just one calf, but has to be considered in keeping Spot and Sexy, Sam and Diane and others that we plan to keep and breed ourselves. The facility where they are currently housed could be difficult to get to after a winter storm when our half mile driveway and the creek we ford are frozen solid. It is not like you can put skis on a cow, even if she does come for a good petting!
PS Don’t forget I won’t be posting on the weekend. One of my twins is getting married.