A Down Day


It seems for every “up” day, there has to be a “down”.

First, the “up”:

Last night we fed Daisy and Donald as usual, and for the first time ever, Donald completely finished his bottle..and then he wanted more!!  After feeding, we let them out of their pen to run around for a bit:

What a great feeling of relief to see Donald up and about!

And more good news:  At long last, it rained last night..about an inch.  It’s been so dry here – the last moisture we saw was snow and that was weeks ago. The soil has been so dry that a cloud of dust rises with every step. So it was a wonderful thing to hear rain on the roof last night. Now the gardens and grass will grow.

But wait….be careful what you wish for:

The “down”:

First thing this morning, Harland checked the cows. As expected, three of the girls waited for crappy weather to have their calves. Most of the time a cow will find a safe spot to have her calf, but not always. One of them was up and fine.  Of the other two cows, one of them had her calf in a puddle, while the other had hers in a pile of mud. Both calves were dead.

There’s an old expression: “If you have livestock, you’ll have deadstock.”  It’s a heartbreaking thing to find a dead animal on the farm, let alone two at once. Harland very often blames himself. He remarked that he should have gotten up in the night to check on them. Maybe he could have caught them in time, but then again, they could have had their calves after he went back to bed. The only sure fire way to lower calf mortality would be to pitch a tent in amongst them and watch them like a hawk. Not very practical though.

Besides the emotional loss of losing calves, there’s the monetary loss. Calves are now bringing about $600 a head at auction. That’s $1200 gone for us.

The only possible good that may come out of this crappy deal is Daisy and Donald. We now have two cows who have plenty of milk with no one to give it to. And we have two calves who have no moms.

Tonight we’ll start the bonding process matching a cow to each of the calves. It’s a difficult process and may not work, but we have to try. By nature, cows refuse to let any but their own calves nurse. They head-butt or kick other calves who try to take liberties with their udder. They can injure or kill a calf.

That’s where this useful contraption comes in:


It’s called a squeeze chute. Oh how I love these. We have one of these in the barn near our house, and another at the farm up the road. Today, Harland will bring one of the cows and calves down to our place and put them in adjoining pens in the barn to get to know each other through a gate. Same thing will be done with the remaining cow and calf at the farm. With a gate between the cow and calf, they can sniff each other, but the cow can’t kill the calf. Both the calves had their bottles this morning, but by this evening, they’ll be hungry again – the perfect time for the next step in bonding.

Harland will drive the cow out of her pen and into the chute. Before she enters the shoot, we’ll swing these 2 black panels open.


As she is running through the shoot and her head enters between the black panels, we’ll pull a lever closing the panels and she’ll be caught by the neck. It’s not painful but she’ll be really pissed off. Think 1000 pounds of really angry bovine. But it’s necessary for the safety of both us and the calf. To pacify and distract her, we’ll give her a pan of grain. Grain fixes everything.

While she’s eating her treat, we’ll take the lower part of one of the chute’s side panels down and introduce a calf to her udder. Both the calves are now several days old, so the newborn instinct to nurse from a cow may be gone. So we’ll have to teach them to latch onto the udder and to suck. This usually takes a lot of gentle manhandling and time. And even if/when the calf figures it out, the battle is not necessarily won. The cow needs to accept the calf. We’ll watch to see if she tries to kick the calf. The design of the chute will prevent her from kicking, but that doesn’t mean she won’t try.

After a good attempt tonight we’ll let the cows out of their chutes and return the cows and calves to the adjoining pens. We’ll do the whole process over again every morning and evening until the calf knows how to nurse, and the cows accept the calves. We’ll know they’ve bonded if the cow speaks in the gentle calf-speak that all new cow mothers use to their babies – low soft moos. If she uses that loving language with the calf we’ll know we have it made and both Daisy and Donald will have new Moms.

The whole process is time consuming and will probably take days if we are to succeed. But fortunately, spring planting hasn’t started yet, and we have some time to play with.

I’ll keep you up to date on how it goes.



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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13 Responses

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Let us know! So sorry about your calves tho 🙁

  2. Amy C. from NC says:

    Very interesting. Cute video! Great post!

  3. Pansy says:

    As a mom whose boys had bottle calves, I have great sympathy for you and Harlan……bottle feeding is the time eater of all chores. At the same time, I bet you will be able to get the cows to accept the calves and wish you the best……the hit to the accounting ledger is a big one but getting D and D to nurse will help offset it. Hang in there.

  4. June Hilbert says:

    So sorry to hear about the loss of the two calves but glad Donald is doing better. Has Harland ever tried skinning the hide off the dead calf, smearing afterbirth (if available) on the hide and tying it on a potential adoptee? The theory is the cow will smell what she thinks is her calf and adopt the replacement. We’ve used this trick a few times and, for the most part, it’s worked. There are also various products, one of which is called “Calf Claim”, that are a mixture of molasses, salt and anise oil. You dampen the calf’s back, sprinkle the granules on and put the calf up the cow. Cows love molasses and she will lick the calf’s back and maybe let it suck while she’s licking. Hopefully, she will get enough of the calf’s scent that she eventually thinks it’s really hers. We’ve also had success with this adoption method. Hope the remainder of your calving goes better!

  5. I hope the mom’s take the calves. That would be best for everyone!!!

  6. Phyllis Scherich says:

    Our magic bonding trick. Skin some hide from the dead calf and tie it onto the back of the calf you want to graft onto the cow. Only takes a few sniffs and the cow thinks it is her baby. – especially after you have put it down the chute and it has sucked.

  7. Linda says:

    So sorry to hear about the two lost calves, but the process of bonding Daisy and Donald to new moms is fascinating. June’s comment is pretty interesting, too. It reminds me of a trick I read about once, for making a new kitten feel at home: put tuna juice on their paws, and let them lick it off. 🙂

  8. Dianna says:

    Oh, I love watching Daisy running around! And when Donald rubbed against your legs, it made me smile.
    Last night when I saw that I had an email notification of a new post from you, I purposely didn’t read it until this morning. I was afraid it would be bad news about Donald. It must be heartbreaking to find dead calves….and attempting to bond the Daisy and Donald to the other two cows sounds like a tremendous amount of work.
    All of us are pulling for it to be successful!

  9. Jeanne L says:

    Well it’s really good to see Donald walking and even bouncing around a little! I hope he continues to improve! And that Daisy – she’s a fireball, isn’t she!

    When I saw the headline for this entry, I was afraid at first it was about Donald not doing well, or even worse. I’m very sorry about the loss of the two calves. That is quite a loss of income for you. I surely hope the two cows will accept the “Little D’s”!! I’m looking forward to the updates!

  10. Sharon says:

    Farmer Ron’s laws of livestock – if you check everything at 10 p.m., all is calm, then get up and check everything – again – at 2 a.m., they will wait until you’re back in the house, back in your bed, and sound asleep, to calve/lamb at 2:15 a.m. When Farmer Ron goes back out at 6:00 a.m., chaos will have resulted.

    Sorry you lost the babies, and hope the bonding process goes well – and quickly! That can eat up huge chunks of time – been there with lambs.

  11. Alica says:

    Even though it’s a fact of life on the farm, it’s still not easy when we lose an animal! This reminds me of the few times where a cow has had a calf and it just so happens that the head turns under as she pushes the rest of the calf out. It’s so sad! But we just can’t be there every second of every day! 🙁 Hopefully the rest of your calving season goes smoothly!

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