When the opportunity to raise a bottle fed calf came up, I did not immediately say yes. I said I needed to think about it. I have never raised a bottle fed calf, but I knew it was a huge commitment and a little risky as not all bottle fed calves make it. We already lost a calf earlier in the year and I knew my heart couldn't bear losing another.
After some thought and research and knowing this baby's mom died from birthing complications a few days after the calf was born, I said yes.
We only had a short time to prepare so two of the grandsons and I got to work. We got a stall ready and an outside pen set up. I knew she would be in a stall 24/7 at first, but I also knew I wanted her to have as much sunshine and air as possible.
The day after we got everything set up, we went to pick her up. How do you transport a newborn calf? Well, we used an open & airy yet secure dog crate. The thought of a calf falling around in our trailer just didn't sit well with me. The dog crate option was the right one and she was safe and sound all the way home. When we first arrived to pick her up, Paw Paw & I explained to the boys what we were going to do and that if she made any noises, it wasn't because we were hurting her, but because she was going to be scared; and that putting a towel over her eyes was soothing for her.
We got her in her stall and let her settle for a bit.
Bottle feeding began that evening. I had no idea how she would take to the bottle, ends up, she loved it! I had zero problems getting her to take it. Turns out calves really do love peach teats (the peach teat company's slogan - "calves love 'em")
I had read that some people suggest feeding a calf by straddling the calf at first, because a human coming at them with a bottle is not at all natural to them, obviously. This method was only needed for a short time as she quickly associated me with her getting fed. After about a week of three times a day bottle feeding, I slowly introduced hay & grain. Again, she took to these steps very well. At this point I was a lot less worried, she was eating, drinking, pooping thus thriving. What a relief!
Jasmine & I worked on her being led with a halter right away. Her lifestyle at this point was inside the stall at night and out in her pen during the day. So every day twice a day she was lead with a halter. Took some practice, but she ended up doing so well! We practiced like we were going to enter the county fair :)
Warm long September days turned into colder shorter October, November, followed by December and January days. The bottles went from three to two and the amount of hay increased to help keep her core body temperature normal while the outside temps dropped.
She grew and grew and then grew some more.
I am all she knows as "mom" and I took this role seriously. It wasn't always easy. For instance, during her first month or so, every time it rained, I brought her in her stall. I also got her in before it got dark. Little by little though I had to let her be a cow; stay out in the elements and in the dark. I even had to leave her out in the snow. She was not happy.
All of our horses are out on pasture 24/7 , they don't ever come in the barn unless someone has an injury or illness. They were in my business a lot during this time! Checking in to see what was going on, but mostly checking in to see if there was food being served.
I did like being out even more than I normally am - Soaking in moments in time that actually felt like time stopped.
Then the day came, just last week, to let Jasmine be what she is, a cow. I had known all along that I was going to turn her out sometime in January.. and last week, the day felt right to have that journey begin.
She weighs about 225 pounds (she was about 85 pounds when we got her.) She eats plenty of hay and grain and knows how to drink water form a bucket or stock tank. She had been off bottles for about a week by this time. The time was right - for her. For me? Not so much. I really really didn't want to do it honestly. I am totally attached.
However, my logical self knew this moment, this turning her out moment meant success. I successfully raised a bottle fed calf. Mind you, I still have to watch her closely to make sure she knows the ropes and is eating and drinking.
I pulled a calf from the herd and put him with Jasmine in a small turn out area, one that adjoins her turn out pen area that she is familiar with, this way she can get back to her comfort zone. Her nights in the stall are over though. However, she seems to be enjoying her new herd mate and after they bond for awhile, I will put them both out with the rest of the cattle. I will feel better that she will go in having a friend. I am not applying any anthropomorphism (Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities) here; cattle (and many other herd animals) do in fact bond with other herd members.
She won't go out with the big cows for awhile, but they do need to get to know one another through a fence line.
Her first night out, it rained. I had to keep telling myself that she was fine and this was why I had been exposing her to more and more inclement weather. I couldn't take it though, I had to go check on her. When I first came out, her and her new friend were snuggled up together and up against the round bale, doing just fine and generating the heat they both needed. Then she saw me, got up and balled and balled and balled. Ugh! Why did I go out there? Of course she was going to get up and become uneasy when she saw me, she equates me to being fed and warm in a stall. I immediately knew I made a mistake by not trusting what I already knew, she was fine (at least until she saw me!) Head down, I turned around, said what I had said every night since I've had her "goodnight Miss Jasmine" and went back inside.
This photo is priceless to me. It's most likely the last selfie Jasmine & I will have together. As she now spends all her time being a cow and soon with a herd, she will have less and less interest in me. I have to remind myself that means success. She will probably remain a friendly cow that we can pet since she had human intervention the first 4 months of her life; but she's officially weaned, from bottles and me. Turning her out felt much like sending your child to school the first day. You are sad and a little excited for them. they are excited and a little sad about missing you.
So here's what I learned from bottle feeding a calf, as it is with so many aspects in farming, they apply to life as well.
* It's ok to learn as you go
* Adaptability is both a human and animal trait, one I have actually learned in my time with animals.
* I never knew I could love a calf this much
* I didn't even know I would enjoy raising cattle as much as I do
* Weaning is a metaphor for life (learning to let go)
* When you love what you are doing, you don't mind leaving the fire in your fireplace all warm and cozy to make a bottle, bundle up and go feed when the wind chill is below ZERO
* I have never felt more that I am doing exactly what I was meant to do in life. I may have had a late start as I didn't get into farming until mid life; but I know with all my heart, mind and soul, I am doing exactly what I was meant to do.
* Would I do it again? Would I raise a bottle fed calf if given another opportunity? Yes, in a heartbeat. Thank you Greg.