Sometimes nature can be so cruel. A storm has taken hold of eastern Colorado, dropping a good twelve inches of snow. We celebrate the moisture surely, however, also hold our breath hoping that our soon-to-be momma cows will wait for a different day to give birth. Delivering in a storm like this is a rancher’s fear – but it’s hard to control Mother Nature.
We are almost half-way through our calving season. Thirteen down, fifteen to go. It’s a small number compared to the big ranches, but a big amount for us. It’s more than any other year as we continue to grow our grassfed beef operation. All thirteen babies have been successfully delivered, but sadly we lost one of our two-year old heifers about ten days ago. She was a lovely, quiet Angus-cross, but her baby was immense for a first-time momma. She died in childbirth. We have been heartsick at her loss, but smile each time we see her calf – a big feller we have dubbed as ‘Rex’ as in T-Rex. He is a bouncing baby bull calf with an insatiable appetite. He finishes his bottle and looks for more. He wraps his lips around anything that resembles a nipple. Morning, noon and night he gleefully gulps his milk replacer and hunts for more!
We are a close-knit group out here in the country. Your neighbors are as close as family, so when the phone rang yesterday morning and a fellow rancher asked, “do you still have your orphaned calf?” we were not surprised. Our friend explained that he had lost a calf during the storm, and was willing to bring the momma to our calf!
Over they came, pickup and trailer, rancher and momma cow. She hesitantly stepped off the trailers. She had to have been distraught at everything that had happened to her in the last twelve hours, but still – there she stood, calmly looking at our calf.
Our little guy had never had the pleasure of his momma’s milk – knowing only a human’s touch as we tried to keep him healthy. He was clueless! He ran after us knowing a human as his only source of food.
We waited for a little while, watching quietly. She appeared very willing. Her udder was distended with colostrum and milk and she murmured to him. The little guy wasn’t sure, so we decided to milk the cow and put the liquid in his bottle. Coaxing him to come to her with the bottle, we leaned down and transferred his mouth from the rubber nipple to the real thing. She immediately quieted with the pressure being relieved in her udder. The calf nursed and nursed.
We were hopeful as he got his belly full. He fell fast asleep! We too slept well with the hope that he finally had the presence of a mother so willing to love our orphan – even after the loss of her own baby.
As morning dawned, we were eager to see how the two had gotten along. We couldn’t tell if he had nursed on his own, so we guided him over to the cow again. He took to the promise of a full belly even faster than he had done the first day. Even though he needed to be coaxed a bit, he latched on and drank like a pro.
This evening we sat a distance away from them both, watching through binoculars to make sure we didn’t disrupt them. Kevin turned to me and said, “I think he is nursing right now!!!”. Sure enough, his whole face was covered with milk. At one point, the momma cow turned 180 degrees for him to nurse the other side. We were amazed.
We are truly grateful for the friend who lent us this quiet momma and her life-giving milk. The only one who was disappointed with the whole situation was Lolli, our chocolate lab, who loved to catch all the drips off the calf’s mouth as he drank his bottle!!