From Pipi’s Pasture: Raising twin bottle calves a worthwhile challenge for Craig rancher
The subject of last week’s column was memories of feeding bottle calves, specifically, one calf that had to be supplemented with two bottles of milk replacer per day because her mother couldn’t produce enough milk.
This week, I’m back on bottle calves again, but this time, it’s about twins. Through the years, we’ve had our share of twin calves. It has always seemed that the mother of twins preferred one of the twin calves — usually the larger — that seemed to dominate the nursing process. This particular twin was better about following the mother, and the other often got left behind. Besides, we often felt the mother didn’t have enough milk for both calves.
All of this is to explain that we usually took the smaller twin off the mother and fed it a bottle and let the mother take care of the other. But, through the years, we learned that the mother usually did have enough milk for both babies and that, if we kept the mother and both babies in the corral for awhile, they would learn to stay with their mother.
I have written about Sarah, my cow that is now about 22 years old. Her last calf ended up being calves. It was the only set of twins ever for Sarah. Cricket was the smaller of the twins, named because her head was crooked. Jiminey was the larger of the two. We trained both calves to drink from the bottle and supplemented them with milk replacer for a few days, but in the end, Sarah took care of both. The twins, now cows, still reside here at Pipi’s Pasture, where they care for their own calves (neither has had twins).
However, one cow in the herd has had several sets of twins. The cow belongs to our granddaughter, Megan. She was named Rein, but more recently has become known as Moose, because of her size. (Remember Kitty? This cow is her daughter.) Anyway, after her first set of twins, we adopted the policy of leaving both calves with her and supplemented the smaller calf. This worked for all except one set of twins.
One year, she had twin daughters, and they were inseparable; they slept side-by-side, and they played together. The first day or so, the smaller calf nursed on a bottle. After that, I had to chase the twin down to feed her the bottle. Finally, I gave up. Both calves nursed … and thrived.
The past two years, Moose had single, nearly identical black baldy calves. So this year, we had kind of forgotten that she might have twins. On the afternoon of Feb. 15, during a blizzard, Moose decided to calve. When I came back to the house after chores, I saw her walking out in Pipi’s Pasture with a little calf. I didn’t know if it had nursed, so Lyle and I took a bottle of colostrum out into the pasture and fed the calf.
It was then that we noticed another calf lying pretty close to the fence on the other side of the pasture. Our neighbor, Skip Kostur, had noticed the calf, too, and called to us. Moose had followed the other calf off and never even cleaned off this twin. The calf was cold. Skip jumped over the fence and helped Lyle load the calf onto a trailer and haul her to the warm shop. The problem with calving in February is the cold. Calves that don’t get up right away start to “freeze down” (my terminology), and it takes awhile to get them warmed up. Until their mouths are warm, they won’t nurse.
We did not try to reunite this twin with her mother, though, if the weather had been warmer, we might have. She did warm up and began nurse. The weather was so cold, she stayed in the shop for about two weeks before we dared take her to the corral. This calf is the larger of the two calves — we estimate over 100 at birth — and a black baldy. She’s a real livewire and one of our bottle calves for 2018.
About a week ago I was rolling a bale of hay down past the loading dock of the corral so that I could throw hay over the fence. Right there in the path was some rhubarb. It isn’t that the rhubarb hadn’t been there before, but I thought it had died out during the drought. It isn’t easy to get water to that location. The rhubarb is nice and tender, and I’m determined to use it up before the stalks get tough. So I hunted up my rhubarb recipes.