Caption: Heidi, a Scottish Highlander cow, keeps a close eye as I prepare to bottle feed her calf, who was unable to nurse because mom’s teats were too large for his little mouth. I’m not sure which I like more: bottle feeding a calf or teaching sixteen children how to handle calves. Both have their charms…and frustrations.
Kavi, one of my crankier Scottish Highlander cows, was lying alone at the back of the field while the other cows “did lunch,” munching on a round bale of hay. Something was wrong. When she got up, I could see she was lame, balancing all her weight on three legs. I walked behind her, encouraging her toward the holding pen where I could evaluate her injury.
Pregnant Kavi limped along, stopping every few steps to rest.
In the safety of the holding pen and away from the herd, Kavi lay down, so I could examine her hoof. A cow has two toes on each foot, and between the toes is a cleft. Somehow Kavi had split the skin inside the cleft, like tearing the skin between a human’s toes. I washed her hoof and doused it with Kopertox, an expensive but effective cure for foot injuries.
Her calf was due soon, and the extra weight of the calf must have made walking difficult. After getting her food and water, I took her temperature, which was normal at 102. Then I left her in the pen.
The next day, at the start of the heat wave, she panted like a dog, and her temperature spiked to 105 (very hot), so I gave her an antibiotic, treated her foot, and sprayed her with the hose to help her cool off. In the cool of the evening, her temperature returned to normal. Even after the second dose of antibiotics, the pattern repeated; panting and fever during the day, normal body temperature at night.
On the sixth day, I called Dr. Lauren Polanik, a Pembroke Animal Hospital veterinarian. Kavi’s foot was healing, but her temperature was 105. Dr. Lauren commented that overheating could not be good for the unborn calf, and even though her foot was healing, Kavi still had trouble walking.
After palpitating Kavi, Dr. Lauren said, “That calf is ready to be born. I’ll give her a shot of steroids, and if the calf is ready, it will be born within 24 to 72 hours.”
Dr. Lauren gave her the shot and left. Six hours later, twin calves were born: a bull and a heifer. Kavi had been carrying twins during a heat wave and with a hurt foot. No wonder she was uncomfortable. I arrived just minutes after the bull calf was born. But the heifer calf, probably born first, was dead. I cursed myself that I had left Kavi alone. If I had been there, maybe I could have saved the heifer. It’s happened before, but I’m devastated when a calf dies.
Then I heard grunting at the back of the pasture and saw Heidi, a white Highlander cow lying on her side. As I walked back to investigate, I saw hooves, then heard a “whoosh,” and a calf squirted out on the ground. Heidi had given birth to a beautiful white bull calf. I got close enough to see that the calf was breathing and that Heidi was cleaning him. I watched as he tried to stand, a good sign. Calves should stand within two hours and nurse within four hours of birth. Expecting they would be fine, I left them in the field.
The next day I brought them into the holding pen, where Heidi’s calf tried to nurse. He couldn’t or wouldn’t latch on because Heidi’s teats were too large for his little mouth, but he was hungry. The calf would die without milk.
So, I put Heidi in the squeeze chute – a tight place where I could milk her without getting kicked or horned. Then I put her milk in a bottle with a nipple. The calf sucked down a quart filling his belly with colostrum-rich milk. The next day, he finished a gallon of Huckins Farm’s raw milk in four feedings.
He now thinks of me as his mom and, after each feeding, bumps me with his head, looking for more. I hope he’ll soon be strong enough to nurse on his biological mom. I don’t want to be a cow mom forever. Too bad Farm Camp is over, or I’d have 16 children eager to help.
Next week I’ll tell you how the new calves and their mothers are doing and share fun stories from Farm Camp. I’ll also tell you why, even if both live, twin calves are not necessarily a blessing.