The story of our house cows - Part 3

by Elizabeth Beavis
Another year has past and things have changed again for our two house cows Bella and Molly.  Catch up with part 1 and part 2, I have been waiting for the right time to write part 3, so much has happened in a year!

If you need to catch up, you can read part 1 and part 2. In summary, about five years ago we bought our first house cow, Bella and she came with a young heifer calf, Molly. Since then, Bella has had three more calves: one that died and was replaced by foster calf Romeo, then Nancy, and then another this year that died and has been replaced by foster calf Charlotte. Molly has also had three calves: Monty, Ruby and Chubby. They both had a long break between their last calves because our little bull Donald got sick and we didn’t know if they were in calf. We replaced Donald with Donald the second, which resulted in these last two calves. Confused?

eight acres: the story of our house cows part 3
Charlotte, Rosey and Chubby
When I wrote last year, the first Donald had just died, but we thought that both cows were in calf. We had dried off both cows and were waiting. After a few months we accepted that we weren’t going to have any calves, and even worse, that we wouldn’t have any raw milk for several months. This was disappointed, and in some ways I felt that we had failed as cow owners, but it was nice to have a break from milking and really didn’t have to do much to look after the cows in that time, they were just off in a neighbour’s paddock with Donald the second.

When it came close to calving time, I brought Bella back home as her udder was swollen and we thought she would calve soon. We actually had another 6 weeks to wait and poor Bella just kept swelling. I’m finding it difficult to get a lot of information about her condition, she seems to have had oedema, which can be caused by an allergic reaction to the growing baby, and mineral deficiencies. Both of the calves that died were from Lowline breed bulls, so we wonder if that is the cause. But it could be anything. I get the impression that dairy cows with this type of problem are culled, rather than doing any research to figure out why they are sick, which makes sense when you’re running a dairy farm, but I’d love to know how to help our house cow!

eight acres: the story of our house cows part 3
Molly with her calf Chubby
When Bella went into labour on a Sunday morning, we were both home and I went into the paddock with her. I saw the calf being born and I tried to revive him, but he was dead. Poor Bella, she licked him clean and mooed at him. We immediately got her two foster calves, as she had fostered Romeo so well last time this happened (I don’t know why we thought two was a good idea though). We got a Jersey heifer and a Jersey cross Australian Red heifer (Charlotte and Rosey), thinking we should take the opportunity to raise some replacement house cows rather than steers.

Unfortunately Bella was really sick this time. She took about a week to recover from the oedema and got mastitis again. Pete had to keep her in a small yard so that she didn’t walk too far away from the milk bales, because she could barely walk and waiting for her to hobble back to the bales was awful. It was not sensible to leave the foster calves with her for a couple of weeks while she was recovering.

And in that time the calves got paralysis tick poisoning! In a week they went from boisterous, active little calves to listless and unable to drink from a bottle. Pete thought they had scours, but when I tried to give one of them an electrolyte mix from a bottle, I found one tick and then another (to be fair, Pete had been feeding them from a bucket with a teat and hadn’t needed to handle them, so hadn’t noticed the ticks). At least now we know what to do for them when we find ticks.... we rolled them over and removed every tick we could find (15 on one calf!), we dosed them with nasty insecticide and put ear tags in both ears. Then bottle fed them electrolyte and Bella’s milk until they were well enough to use the bucket again. This set us back several weeks, so that even when Bella was well, the calves were not strong enough to take milk from her.

eight acres: the story of our house cows part 3
Cantankerous Bella

The calf fostering didn’t go as well as last time, maybe it was the time delay or just how ill Bella was at first. Eventually she has accepted Charlotte the more confident of the two calves, but not as forthrightly as she did with Romeo. Rosey has tried, but hasn’t been allowed to drink from either cow, so we have been milking and feeding Rosey.

Molly had her calf not long after all of that, and everything went well, in fact she was hardly “bagged up” at all, with far less swelling than her previous calves. Pete was home for the birth, which was nice and quick. Her tiny calf is part mini Hereford and Low line, so she has a different shape to the dairy animals. We started calling her Chubby and it stuck. Molly is doing a wonderful job looking after her calf and we have been making sure that Molly has plenty to eat and doesn’t lose condition as she did with her last calf.

Pete was milking both cows for a while, but then Bella got mastitis again and kicked him in the head during milking. We have since read that cows imprint very strongly when they first meet someone and keep grudges. Pete had originally tried to “discipline” Bella when we first got her, and I think maybe she is holding some resentment towards him. Sometimes she will only come into the milking bales if I’m there. Anyway, from that day Pete stopping milking her and stopped giving her grain to eat (to reduce her milk production), and stopped feeding any milk to Charlotte, so now Charlotte is milking Bella for us, and sometimes she gets kicked too.

eight acres: the story of our house cows part 3
Fresh Raw Milk is flowing again!

Its been a crazy few months and that’s why I’ve been waiting for the right time to write this update. Molly has grown into a wonderful cow, she has easy births (so far) and stands quietly in the milking bales. We’ve never had to give her antibiotics. Her only problem is a sensitivity to buffalo fly that leaves her itchy all over, and I really feel for her because I have the same problem with mosquito bites.

On the other hand, we have Bella, with two dead calves, a bad temper (possibly because she is often in pain from underlying mastitis infections, and doesn’t like Pete) and a very uncertain future. It seems unfair to breed her again and potentially put her through oedema again. But a dairy cow that can’t breed is not much use to us. While it would be nice to think she could just stay on our property as a pet, even if feed cost wasn’t an issue we would also have make sure the bull never got to her. We are left with few options, sell her (for meat, not to be breed again), shoot and bury her or eat her ourselves. None of these appeal to me at the moment.

Right now we have some time, Bella is still useful to us as a foster mother to Charlotte, but after that, we will have to make a decision. I know some people don’t bat an eyelid at sending their cow to the meat works and getting a new one. I understand that, I’m like that with nearly every other animal on the farm. With the house cows I was not prepared for this eventuality, I thought they would live here until they died. It makes me realise that we need to have plans for unhappy endings, so that we don’t come to unexpected difficult decisions.

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