A Tale of Two Calves

(Continued from ‘A Calf in the Bath?’ My apologies for leaving you hanging so long!)

So, why did we lose Billy, our calf? We didn’t find out the reasons until we almost lost Spright as well. She was a big heifer calf, and full of energy right from the moment she hit the ground. But after one night in the cold, she didn’t look like she was suckling too well, either, and was beginning to shiver. Her mama had teats that were too large, so she wasn’t able to latch and get enough milk to keep her warm most likely.

Up we brought her into the barn (where it was warmer) and fed her some colostrum replacer. She took to the bottle really well, and got two quarts down right away. But the next time we checked on her, far from being refreshed, she was exhibiting the the same symptoms Billy had! She had the same funny pant, the same bloody stool, the same lethargy, and the same normal temperature. Now, this was a very healthy calf at birth, and had not been chilled. And now we were seeing the same symptoms?

The symptoms were consistent with a cow disorder I had read of called bloat. Bloat is a condition where the cow’s body produces too much gas in the digestive system (due to a variety of reasons) and the rumen (the first of the cow’s 4 stomachs) expands , crowding out the space for the lungs. This causes the panting, and if not treated quickly, bloat can cause death by suffocation. To the best of my knowledge, bloat occurs in cows usually when they have been suddenly changed from a low-quality diet to a rich one, for example going from hay to a field full of alfalfa or clover. It is also common in grain-fed cattle, which ours are not fed grain at all. But I had never heard of it in calves before.

The only common denominator between the two calves was the milk replacer we had fed them. After doing a lot of research, I came across some articles that reported that some milk replacers have been indicated in the deaths of dairy calves, who were feeding on it solely. And my suspicions were further heightened when I later read that goats cannot handle any soy-based milk replacers when they are newborns. Ours was a soy-based milk replacer, and it obviously seriously harmed the calves internally. Perhaps calves can’t handle soy – based milk replacer either? I don’t know for sure, but it sure is going to a long time before we try that again on any of our livestock.

So what happened to Spright?

Well, we did all we could to remedy her situation. We switched her to raw milk that a wonderful friend with dairy cow provided to us. We gave her some penicillin G, to help kill off any extra bacteria in her GI tract that might be proliferating and producing more gas, and we gave her a vitamin supplements. The next day she remained curled up in the barn in one spot all day. The day after that she was still very sluggish, and we continue to give her the vitamins and bottle feeding her raw milk. Soon she was able to nurse from one teat! Oh, I can’t tell you the jubilation I felt when I saw her suckle on it for the first time! Not that I didn’t enjoy bottle feeding her, of course. I went and bought 30 gallons of milk from Aldi and continue to give her 4 quarts a day to supplement whatever she could manage to get from her mama.

For the next few days she still stayed in the barn, even though she had access to the outside and her mother was consistently trying to get her to follow her out. One day, I found she had ventured out and found a snug little place under the hay that we had provided for the other cows to eat over winter. Because of the bottle feeding, she would come out and moo when we called her! It was so cute; such a special time. Finally, on February 6th about a week after she was born, she found and latched onto a second teat, and her bottle feeding decreased. Gradually she began to refuse the bottle, and instead went back to her mama for milk (I also saw her sneaking milk from another cow, as well).

Spright snuggled in the hay

Since then, we have had two more calves, Halfpenny, a heifer, and Dudley, a bull. Dudley’s dam also had the same udder issue as Spright’s dam (the two cows are related) and so I bottle fed him some; but now he’s figured out a couple teats and no longer needs the supplement. That’s a total of six out of 7 calves for this year, and it’s been an adventure (as always…).

Penny and her calf, Halfpenny
Jerky checking out the new bull calf, Dudley

Stay tuned… Spring has sprung, and the projects are rolling out as fast as we can manage them!

3 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Calves

  1. Wow, what a story and as stressful as it has been I’m sure, what an amazing journey of knowledge for all of you, including your homeschooling journey! Blessings- Jamie S

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