This summer, I’m helping two mother cows feed their calves — at least for a while. The calves are nursing on their moms; the cows are nurturing their calves, but I’m not sure just how much milk the babies are getting.
I’ve always thought that it would be great if a cow had a gauge built into her bag so that a person could tell just how much milk the cow produced, but since that isn’t a reality, I pay attention to the size of the cow’s bag and how satisfied the calf seems to be after nursing. So, to make a long story shorter, I have two cows and calves here at Pipi’s Pasture for the summer, or perhaps for part of the summer. So I take the calves bottles of milk replacer twice daily.
This column is about Ucky, one of the cows. She’s a great big orange-red cow with a white blaze on her face. Her mother was black Angus and her father was a Simmental. I’ve had Ucky since she was a baby and, in fact, fed her milk when she was growing up, too.
Ucky is about 17 years old, perhaps a little older. Our granddaughter Jessica was a toddler when Ucky was born. She thought that the calf, covered with birth fluids, was “ucky,” and the name stuck.
In the ranching business, old cows are culled from the herd — for good reason. They wear out, just like humans. They quit producing calves, and if they do have calves they no longer can feed them. Old cows have bad teeth, so they have trouble eating stems in the hay and foraging for feed on pastures. Sometimes, they lose their teeth. Sometimes, these cows need grain to keep them going.
So, there are plenty of reasons to cull old cows. Sometimes we keep them, however, figuring that they have paid their way — in Ucky’s case, she has probably produced at least 13 calves — and can live out their lives with the herd. I figured that Ucky had “retired” last year when she didn’t have a calf last year. She looked pretty thin the year before, when she weaned off a big heifer calf, so I left her in the corral all winter, feeding her grain.
This past fall, she looked good, and I figured that she could spend the winter in the feedlot with the other cows. But Ucky had other thoughts. She spent time down by the corral, hinting that she wanted to spend the winter there. She got her way, and, surprise, in early spring it was pretty obvious that Ucky was going to have a calf. In fact, she looked as if she might have twins.
However, Ucky had just one little heifer calf in April, a cute little red calf that may have been a bit premature because she didn’t have a lot of hair. I enlisted my husband's, Lyle’s, help in getting her to nurse since Ucky’s old bag hangs down close to the ground, and I started feeding her a little milk besides. Although most calves shiver a little during cold weather when they nurse, this little calf really shivered, so I gave her the name “Shivers.”
Feeding calves on the bottle, even to supplement their diets, means following a routine, making it hard to get away on summer trips, but I’m enjoying the time I’m spending with Ucky and Shivers. And the other cow and calf? That’s another story.