My excitement over the arrival of the turkey chicks yesterday was dampened by their non-arrival. Mike even went to the Post Office to pick up some other parcels and inquired about them. Nope. They got in chickens, ducks, and geese all for the local Tractor Supply store but no birds for us. Bummer. Mike did remind me that the hatchery states “week of” on their shipments and the last group arrived on a Thursday. I am keeping my fingers crossed and still excited about seeing them.
The weather turned off cold and a frost advisory was in effect for last night. I was concerned about it since the apple and pear trees were in full bloom. Farmer Mike tells me it should not be a problem for the trees because it will not be that cold. I hope he is right. We will need those fruits come jelly making time.
I did not worry about making too much jelly last year as there was plenty in the cupboards from the year before. A friend keeps us stocked on crabapple and some unusual jellies, as well. The pantry is low right now. Fortunately we froze some elderberry juice last year, so I am thinking this afternoon (after I help feed, pick up the house, and assemble a bench for the front deck and a bookcase for the living room) I just might make some elderberry jelly. There is no special recipe for it. I make grape jelly from the package instructions and just substitute the elderberry juice for grape juice. It is not that we eat that much of it, but it is fun. I also love the amethyst sparkle of the little jars when the sun hits them before I hide them away for safekeeping and giving the unusual jelly as gifts throughout the year. It must be good, the receivers often ask for more.
Speaking of asking for more…after all the excitement yesterday, our feeble attempts to get the blind calf into the cowshed, the mucking out of the stalls, the strange noises going on around them, our skitterish new calves huddle closely together in the area of the shed I call ‘The nursery’. It is a dark, close area, thick with fresh bedding, heated by two low-hanging infrared lamps. Every calf, or group of calves, is put there upon arrival until he is well enough, strong enough, and big enough to mix with the others. He is then moved to ‘Kindergarten’, a somewhat larger, lighter, and easily accessible area, still separate from the rest of the herd but connected to an alleyway that leads to the larger stalls. In the alleyway, the little calves can safely greet the larger calves nose-to-nose. Our new Kindergarteners wanted back in the nursery yesterday.
Sometimes, when there is a lot of excitement, the smaller calves refuse to eat. I think they also refuse to eat sometimes because they grieve for their previous home, mom, herd or whatever. Maybe it is just the mother in me, but I really think that, and my maternal instinct kicks in, anyways. I dote on them at that point. Doting, however, is difficult when a calf is so frightened he runs from you. For those calves, feeding time is my best time. It is almost like a bonding time between a human mom and her newborn, only the bonding in this case is temporary.
As I wrote before, calves know of nothing but the warm, sweet milk they drink at feeding time. All fear disappears…there is only the food. That is when I stroke their necks, hug them against my leg, talk to them gently and reassuringly and name them. Within a day or two, they respond and no longer run from me, but come to me when called by name. Their reaction to human contact while eating is the same reason that Mike feeds the larger calves small amounts of feed during the seasons in which there is plenty of pasturage. They come to the sound of the feed bucket, no matter where they are in the field. They allow him to pet them, swishing their tails happily like puppies suckling their mother. They respond to their names…all for food. The gentleness they receive from us, they mirror in their behavior. While we are still very careful around them as they sexually mature (their most dangerous time in terms of behavior) they do not charge, kick, or otherwise become nuisances or dangers.
Yesterday with blind Belle, it was the gentle words and soft voice I used around her while she fed in the past that kept her from running away as we tried to get her back in her pen. She understood “Whoa,” eventhough she was never lead-trained by us, and immediately stopped when I shouted it (except the one time I said it as she stood still). The littlest calves, however, being new arrivals do not know to trust us or the sounds we make. Instead, they huddled together in the nursery in wide-eyed fear.
We did not expect any of them to eat last night, but the milk drew them in. Three ate well. Three ate satisfactorily. One hardly ate. I will watch the little white face (baldy) more closely today. He make take ill.
Calves take ill for all sort of reasons, making the bottle babies a difficult age group to raise. It takes a lot of time, not only to feed them, but to treat them too. They can catch pneumonia during shipment or simply moving from field to field. They get the ‘scours’ (diarrhea) too with sometimes fatal dehydration. They sometimes inhale their milk and get pneumonia from that too. Therefore, we keep an arsenal of medicines available for quick treatment and keep ingredients on hand to make electrolyte solutions for them.We give antibiotics, as expensive as they are, only when necessary…but they are necessary at times. We give vitamins, like B12 to bolster their immune system. They are dewormed; they are vaccinated. So while there are some people who yammer on about ‘unnatural’ things in our meat, I know for a fact that our calves are not treated on a whim, but only to save their lives. Any medication proven to linger in their system is avoided entirely.
Because we are a small operation (tiny, actually) we know exactly which calf has what medicine and when. We keep charts, just like your nurse in the hospital does for you. Date, time, medication and amounts we record faithfully. The charting also allows us to see if a certain group has problems. For example, we noted that one particular group of holsteins died no matter what we did to try to save them. We suspected the previous owner did not provide them colostrum at birth and quit buying calves from him. We later found that to be exactly true. Sadly, we cannot always take the farmer’s word that they have the proper milk and medications or that they are healthy calves. Cattle buying is a “buyer beware” enterprise and you don’t always know if a calf is sick until several days after arrival.
I am expecting to go to the shed in a few minutes and find the baldy in need of medication. One of the calves yesterday had what appeared to be the beginnings of the ‘scours’. Perhaps it was him. Observing him this morning will tell more and Mike may decide to give him a blue bollus as treatment (we found they work best). Or maybe his appetite will be fine and the effects of yesterday’s excitement finally wore off. Either way, I will dote on him and give him a nickname… Caddyshack’s son is thinking up his real name, I believe.
City guy and his family named the little Holstein bull that arrived, “Moo-shoo.” They could have just named him Steak or Dinner, I think, but we’ll see if the bull likes the name. The calves do have preferences: we had to rename Elizabeth because she hated Muddy, Waddaboo only responds to Boo-gee, and Brahma Mama only responds to Mama Baby…who knew?! It might end up being Mooshoo on the records, but George (or whatever he chooses) in person. Ha!
Okay…I’ve rambled long enough…Mike already headed out to feed…I’m outta here! Have a great day!