Spring on the ranch is the busiest time of year! Fields are being readied for spring, fences being mended, irrigation systems are upgraded, and new calves are being born daily (we are averaging 5 new babies a day). They take a large amount of time as we carefully monitor their health, as well as their moms, and occasionally have to intervene to ensure survival. For instance, we had to capture a cow the other day who inadvertently missed pulling the birth sac off of her newborn (the cows usually are very aggressive about licking the face of their calf off first to clear away anything that might interfere with breathing). We wanted to give her a new baby.
We had an extra calf for this because we have occasional twins or abandoned calves who need a mother—in cows, optimal is one calf per cow, as most cows have trouble counting up to two and will misplace one of their kids if left to themselves. To ensure complete bonding, we remove the skin off of the dead calf and tie it on the ‘graft’ calf so the mom can smell the scent of her original baby. While this sounds grisly, it is actually rather clinical. The dead calf isn’t objectionable, because it has been dead only a short time, but the skin still smells to the cow like her calf.
We catch the cow in the barn or corral, so she cannot run off, and start the new baby on her milk bar. This all sounds very quiet and sweet, but often our wild range cow will put up one incredible western rodeo fight before it is all over, even sending Glenn over the corral fence…
But in the end, mom has a baby. It might take a few days, but it works (don’t try this on a goat, though; Glenn worked on a goat for nearly 3 weeks to take an orphan kid, and finally was met with success). And there is great satisfaction in creating a new bond out of two sad losses: a motherless calf now has a mom, and a cow missing her calf now has a new one to care for.