Murray (left) and June will be available for snuggling at Miles Smith Farm at the next Elspeth’s Place fundraiser on Sept 25 and 26. It will be by appointment — you don’t want to stand in line these days.
I found June, a 2-month-old Scottish Highlander calf, standing next to her mom’s lifeless body, mooing to get her up. But Missy had eaten something toxic and died. I’m working with a veterinarian to determine what caused the death of my favorite cow. Was it the brewer’s grain, the vegetables, the heat, or a combination of factors that did her in? I’m devastated, but I must figure it out. The current drought means there is little grass, so until we determine the cause, we are now feeding the cows only hay.
Missy was one of our “riding cows”; smart enough to know her name; patient enough to stand still while I put on her halter; and gentle enough to allow children to sit on her back. In August 2019, we were sure she would give birth at the Hopkinton Fair, so we set up a box stall for her and watched and waited. Gosh, we got that wrong, she wasn’t due, she was just fat! She gave birth in June 2020, hence the calf’s name, June. We made a video of the delivery, and some of you may have seen it.
June, a 100-pound ball of red hair, short legs with a pixie-like face and a sweet nature, had been nursing and eating hay. Calves imitate their moms, and June had learned to eat hay, but hay alone isn’t enough to keep a 2-month-old calf alive without her mother’s milk.
To give her protein, we tried to bottle-feed June raw milk from Huckins Farm in New Hampton. But she wanted nothing to do with the rubber nipple. Another protein source, a grain called “calf manna,” is specifically formulated to provide nutrition to weaned calves. She had not learned to eat grain, so how could we teach her now? Enter: Murray, the slender steer.
Murray is an escape artist who will slip through the feed-bunker slats that a larger animal would not consider. He also squeezes through the narrow opening between gate and gatepost, tears up the trash, and deposits “cow pies” in the barnyard that humans step in.
To thwart his escapes, Murray had been sequestered in the holding pen, which is impossible to escape unless l forget to latch a gate. We put June in with him, hoping they would bond. When other calves shared the pen with Murray, he’d head-butt them and chase them from “his” hay, but June was different. He shares his hay with her and snuggles with her when they sleep. He’s a good friend.
Even better, Murray taught her grain is good eating. As she’d see her friend eating it, she’d reach her head into his pan, and they’d dine together. Thanks to Murray, June is now a fat and healthy calf.
Every day, we walk June and Murray around the farm as a break from their pen. I think June looks forward to her daily walkabout. She is a survivor and, while she’ll never replace her mom, she’ll always remind us of Missy’s sweet nature.
Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, where she raises and sells pastured pork, lamb, eggs and grassfed beef. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.