I was on OB patrol, cruising the corral with my trusty flashlight, dodging mushy cow pies and looking for cows in trouble when the flashlight caught a large mound at the edge of the straw pack. Closer inspection revealed this was no ordinary lump, but a newly-born heifer calf, completely licked off. It was the biggest newborn calf I’d ever seen.
“Where’s your Mommy?” I asked, glancing around. The deep red calf made no sound, stared straight ahead and barely moved as it breathed. “ Good calfie, you’re hiding like your mommy taught you! But where is Mommy?”
She wasn’t lying down anywhere, she wasn’t at a feeder…where could she be? I was about to give up when I walked around the manure pile. That’s where I found her lying feet up the pile, bloated and dead. We had ourselves a pail bunter.
We named her Zoe. Although the size of a three-month-old calf, she had a docile sweetness about her that the name seemed to imply. It took some coaxing to get her to take the 2 litre bottle at first; but once she learned, she collapsed it within a minute with her vigorous feeding and was looking for more. The kids had a ball taking turns feeding their new pet. It didn’t take her long to associate us with food! She would come running whenever she saw us…even calling to us when we were feeding hay bales or bedding with straw in the other pen.
She graduated to the Calf-a-teria…a pail with a nipple on it that will hold a bucket of milk. I must confess, when it reached this point, feeding Zoe was starting to get old. It was nearly time to go to pasture. There were only a few cows left to calve. Unfortunately, one cow lost its calf. Fortunately, this was Zoe’s best chance to have an adoptive mama.
Jeremy agreed to train the pair, making it easier for Zoe to learn to associate food with the new mama instead of with me. Zoe was willing enough, but it took two weeks to convince Mama cow that Zoe was now her baby! During that time, I did not let Zoe see me.
Finally, the happy day arrived. New mama cow truly loved her baby Zoe. She would moo gently to call Zoe to her side, lick her, and stand perfectly still to let Zoe nurse. I had to see it for myself!
Zoe loved to play with the kids, so it was no surprise when she followed Jeremy from her holding pen, down the alley towards the corral where I stood.
The moment Zoe saw me, she came running over, but stopped half way and started maaaaa-ing at me. She abruptly turned and trotted a few steps back down the alley. Then she stopped, turned, and maaaa’d again, checking to see if I was looking. About the fifth time she engaged in this Lassie-esque behaviour, I caught on that she wanted me to follow. Down the alley we went.
She led me to the pen where her new mama stood. And, I swear, when she knew she had my full attention, she ran over to her new Mama and started sucking, broke away to look at me as if to say, “See, everything turned out all right after all. I have my very own mommy cow, just like the other kids! You won’t need to feed me anymore, thank you!” And big girl Zoe went back to eating.