I’d bet the big bucks that the only time “Mr. Corn Farmer” has used a hair dryer is on a calf. It’s pretty exclusive to get an appointment for a style at 11:15 p.m. on a Saturday night! Some girls are SO high maintenance…
It was about a year ago that we came home from a basketball game, tucked our two little boys in bed, talked a little post-game basketball with our older sons, and stayed up late with a baby calf needing some extra care.
Last weekend was another Yogi Berra “déjà vu all over again” moment in the barn.
It was way after midnight on Sunday morning when we got home from helping out this sweet little heifer (female) calf. Her body temperature was dangerously low. It didn’t make much sense as it wasn’t that cold of a day, although the wind had picked up that evening. Her mama had her licked dry after being born – a good sign because that usually stimulates the calf to stand and nurse.
After bringing her inside to the heated shed, we “tubed” her, meaning we fed her almost two quarts of colostrum through an esophageal feeder. Getting this first nutrition in the baby is vital, and we were doubtful whether this calf had nursed. We then warmed her up further with a hair dryer. It took quite a while until her mouth felt warm inside rather than ice cold. She seemed to enjoy all this attention!
However, after helping her stand, we discovered a problem. There was a reason this calf had stayed on the ground, likely hadn’t nursed, and was chilled. Her right shoulder appeared to be either dislocated or swollen, and was very unstable. We theorized that she was born with a leg back, but with her small birth weight, her mother was able to still deliver her unassisted. Often in this birthing position, we need to reach in and move that leg forward in order for the calf to be born.
This little calf really wanted to stand and walk, but her wobbly leg just wouldn’t work. Not good.
Nevertheless, we reunited her with her mama in the barn, who sweetly mooed, sniffed her baby, and licked her off again. It was time to leave them alone together, time for us to get some sleep, and time for us to pray that somehow this calf would push through this bump in the road.
Will Rogers once said, “A farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” We were pretty hopeful.
Five days later, this calf is nursing from her mama, standing on her own, and is a little more mobile. She’s not running yet, but she can walk and is getting stronger. We’re nervous to turn her out with the rest until she can keep up with them. We really don’t need a coyote eyeing one of our weaker babies. We’ll continue to watch her closely and have a conversation with our veterinarian if necessary.
Checking on newborn calves is important – timing can be critical. It’s not uncommon for a rancher to use video surveillance in a barn to monitor cows who are about to give birth or check on newborn calves. Some will bring a cold newborn calf into a hot tub. I remember having a calf in our basement once when I was a kid. My mother-in-law says the chip in our upstairs bathtub is from a baby calf that they had warmed probably thirty years ago. Everyone I know who raises livestock has stories of what they’ve done to help their animals, calving season or otherwise. Who knows, maybe we can add a hot tub one of these days… for the calves of course!
It’s really no joke though. Occasionally, we’ll lose a calf and we’ll second guess all the things we could have done differently. It’s a major disappointment. Whether we use a hair dryer, or a neighbor uses a hot tub, we’ll be as creative as we need to be at any hour of the day to save a calf.