Bella's calf died at birth - when things don't go to plan #2

by Elizabeth Beavis
I was expecting this week to post all about the birth of Bella's calf.  I was expecting it to be a happy post, with lots of cute photos, but unfortunately I have bad news.  If you are following me on facebook (for up-to-the minute reports on farm life) you will know that we came home from work yesterday to find Bella had already had the calf, but it was dead.  We think she was born alive, and maybe suffocated due to the amniotic sac remaining over her head after birth.  When I found the calf she was in an odd position and when I rolled her head around, a lot of fluid drained out, she was already cold by then, so there was nothing we could do.  Poor Bella had already licked the calf clean and was eating the afterbirth, so we only missed the birth by maybe an hour, which is the hardest part for us, as we may have been able to help if we had been there in time.  (more here).

Bella is upset and confused.  We left the dead calf with Bella overnight to give her some time to accept that it had died, and she has been licking it and mooing softly.  This is her third calf, and she is probably just waiting for it to stand up and drink like the rest of them.  She hasn't been over-protective and has allowed up to come close and to move the calf over to the milking bales so that we could milk her.  I think she was hoping that we would help.

After milking, we called around and found a little foster calf to try with Bella.  She doesn't have to have a calf, we could just keep milking her twice a day until we got sick of it and then dry her up, but if we can get a calf to start taking the milk we will have a share-milker to take the milk when we don't want to, which will allow us to keep milking for longer (and make more cheese!).  This little calf is a Fresian-cross, so he's the wrong colour and huge compared to the calf that died.  He's one week old and his mother died shortly after his birth.  If you know what happens to boy calves on dairy farms (if not, google "what is veal?"), he didn't have much longer to live anyway, so I'm glad we could rescue him.  He has a very strong suck and loves his bottle.  He is also very tame with us, so we couldn't ask for a better foster calf if we have to try one.  (AND he has a black face with a love heart white mark over his forehead, very very cute!).

We kept him in a separate area overnight, and this morning we gave him a quick wash, and then poured some of Bella's urine over him to try to disguise his unfamiliar smell (yes we were up early and following Bella with a bucket until she pee-ed for us).  We got Bella into the milking bales and brought the little calf in behind her and got him sucking on her back teats.  She was not really impressed, but did let him get a good drink (he took a while to figure out that there was more than one teat because he's only ever had a bottle).  Now she is out in the paddock with him and not taking much notice of him, as she is looking for her calf, but we already sneaked the dead calf away so that she could meet the new calf.

Our plan is to keep letting him feed from Bella in her bales and we hope that she will eventually start to mother him.  The worst that can happen here is that Bella refuses to let him drink from her and we end up bottle feeding him until he can live on grass, and then we will be stuck milking Bella every day, but it was worth a try and we are now learning all about fostering a calf (see more good advice here and here).  Its still really sad for us and for Bella, but as I said on Facebook, when you farm you have livestock and deadstock and you have to able to deal with both of them, we don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves, we just have to get on with Plan B.  And I liked Ohio Farmgirl's comment too: the hardest truth about farming is that not everyone makes it and not everyone can stay.  That's the truth!

And if you were wondering about the poor little Braford calf that we bought home, he is too big, too weak and not keen on milk, so we didn't think he would foster, better to get a strong young calf with a good suck, so that he will persevere even when Bella kicks him off.  The Braford is doing ok, still alive, but still weak, we just keep giving him hay, calf pellet and the occasional bottle of milk and he seems to be improving slowly.

So yesterday we lost a gorgeous little heifer calf, but we gained a sweet little bull calf, and maybe everything is going to be ok in the end......  Any tips on getting a cow to take on a new calf?

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