Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude
March 1, 2017
It's inevitable that at some point, grafting a calf onto a cow is going to be attempted. To say watching my husband's methods for the first time the spring after we got married was memorable would be an understatement.
He gathered the middle-aged cow who lost her calf into the corral out of the 80-acre calving pasture without incident, and locked her in the pen that leads to the single file alley. He then gathered up the calf, a twin I think, and headed toward the cow with said calf. No drugs, no chute, no skin off the cow's dead calf, no afterbirth to rub on the calf. Nothing extra, just the calf.
I watched, completely dumbfounded, as my husband walked the cow to the single file alley, where she just stopped at the entrance. He then eased up beside her, knowing full well she wasn't a pet, gently nudged her up against the fence and shoved the calf's head toward her bag. In a matter of minutes, all while he stood there, the calf got things figured out and away the pair went. He repeated this two more times the next day before the two decided they belonged together, and trotted off into the proverbial sunset.
I did not know what I witnessed was even possible. Cows where I grew up are a bit more…independent. What he had just successfully executed would have most likely landed him the hospital if attempted. Assuming he made it far enough through the process to get close enough for the cow to realign his thinking.
Beyond that, convincing an old range cow to take a calf she did not give birth to personally, well, that's an entire separate chapter typically involving a long, drawn out relationship between cow, squeeze chute and Rompin. Sometimes hobbles. Usually a solid stick. Even then, the best-case scenario is typically that the old cow tolerates the calf, even if you get the sense for the entire summer that she views it as her ugly stepchild.
But, around here, they do lovingly take a new calf when theirs is lost. It's typically a matter of days before a grafted pair is back with the bunch, without any worry the calf will be stealing off everyone while the cow forgets it ever existed. They truly stick, with one exception that we had to work with for about a week before she decided to give in and raise the calf. A complete irritation to my husband, she would have easily ranked in the upper half of success stories on my parent's operation.
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We just had this happen with a heifer earlier this week, and after an initial feeding with the cow in the chute, she hasn't offered to kick at him once. On day two she and junior were out in the big corral, and I suspect that by day five they will be turned out with the bunch.
I still don't understand this phenomenon, but have come to sincerely appreciate it. I've also mentioned to my husband that should one of my old cows ever lose her calf, his usual approach may not work quite as well.