Afternoon With The Calves

We’re more than halfway through with calving for this year which is a cause for celebration for us. Whoo hoo! 

From late February through April, we check the cows frequently to see if they are about to have a calf, or have had a calf. We watch the weather carefully and groan when it is to be cold or snowy, as we could lose newborn calves if a cow chooses to calf at that time and doesn’t take care of it properly. So far this year, we’ve lost one calf to illness, and one of the first-time cows has rejected her calf and we’ve been working on persuading her to take it back.  Bad mother. All of this is wearing on us, and we’re looking forward to the end of the calving season.

But sometimes we just have to stop and watch the antics of the growing calves. The first ones to come are now old enough to play with each other, and one of the most enjoyable things on the farm is watching them.

One of the more interesting things about cows is the babysitting system they use. One cow babysits all the calves, while the rest of the cows go off to graze. The babies don’t follow their mothers, but stay with the babysitter. The babysitter watches over the calves, but will not clean or nurse any but her own calf.  This system amazes us. How do they determine who is to be the babysitter that day? Why to the babies not follow their mothers? Why is one cow willing to watch over calves that don’t belong to her, which is kinda un-cow like. We see this every year, but still don’t have the answers to this fascinating cow behavior.


This pasture has only the first time cow mothers, which makes the babysitting thing even more amazing. We don’t send our cows to school to learn this stuff, so they know only what they know from instinct.

Cows are a lot smarter than they look.

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Cattle, corn, wheat, beans, mud, snow, ice, and drought. Plenty of fresh air and quiet. Our life is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous, but never boring.

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16 Responses

  1. Glenda says:

    The calves are so cute! I know you love to see the babies. Can you convince Harland to raise anything else that has little ones? How about chickens?
    Went to the Amish a couple of weeks ago and there were so many lambs! My grand daughter had to stop and roll down the window and talk to them and the horses. Hmmmm….reminded me of someone! It was a delightful morning drive.

    • Suzanne says:

      I’ve considered raising chickens for meat for years Glenda, but can’t get past the butchering thing. Don’t think I’d enjoy that. :p

  2. Lynn says:

    Wow I never knew that about cows! That’s really cool.

  3. Louise says:

    Such fun! For about 5 years this city gal lived out in the country. We had 10 acres of woods surrounded by cattle pasture. I loved to see the calves play – what I would refer to as “cavorting.” They’d start to run and kick up their heels chasing each other around. I didn’t notice the babysitting aspect, but had no reason to watch for it then. I’ll have to go roaming one of these days and find one of the Amish farms in my area and check them out! If nothing else, a great photo opportunity.

    • Suzanne says:

      I grew up in farm country too Louise, and while I noticed groups of calves in pastures, I didn’t realize there was babysitting going on either until I met Harland. It’s pretty neat to watch.

  4. Lynda M O says:

    How sweet to watch them play with one another so gently. I noticed that the boy calves were the ones butting heads and playing the most-wonder if that’s a constant or just a “today’s activity”. I shall send this link to my sister and give her a few minutes of giggles too. I liked the way they looked at and approached you. The sniffing of odors with their heads cocked cracked me up.

    • Suzanne says:

      As they get older Lynda, they’ll start to play as a group and chase each other in large laps around the field. It’s pretty fun to watch. The head butting goes on though forever. Even their moms, who are now 2 years old do it from time to time.

  5. Rebecca says:

    We were at a class on time, and had to pick an animal which we are most like. I picked a cow–I’m a daycare provider! 😉

  6. Yeah, watching calves romp around is wonderful. Been a few years since I’ve been able to do that.

  7. Dianna says:

    That’s amazing about the baby-sitting. I never knew that. (There’s a lot I don’t know about cows considering I looked at a dairy barn every day for the first 23 years of my life!)

    Calves are so cute playing!

    • Suzanne says:

      Don’t feel bad, I grew up in cow country too, but didn’t realize all that was really going on in the pasture until I met Harland. Have learned a lot from him.

  8. Lucky you! I’m sure I could sit there for hours and watch them.

    I didn’t know that about the babysitting – how fascinating.

  9. Kelly says:

    Fascinating findings!
    How could anyone not love cows?

  10. Teresa says:

    It always makes me chuckle when my cow leaves her calf with the ox as a babysitter while she’s off grazing! He’s such a good “uncle” to her babies. My goats will do the same thing. Usually, the nanny left with kids to watch is Minnie, who is retired!

  11. Awww! The little calves are so cute!! I love how they play. I love the babysitter cow! That is so awesome how they do that. Animal behavior and instincts just blow my mind.

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