Sunday, March 3, 2013

Calf Adoption Services

This little guy showed up yesterday at my fiancee's place, but unlike most of the calves, he wasn't born here. He was born at the neighbor's, but his mom didn't make it through having him. When that happens, the rancher bottle feeds the calf and cares for it, unless or until a surrogate mother can be found.
The surrogate mother ended up being one of my fiancee's cows, who lost her calf to unknown causes day before yesterday. The idea was to put the calf without a mother with the cow who lost her calf, and create an adopted pair. This process is called grafting in the ranching world.
If a cow loses her calf, there is a brief window of time consisting of a couple days when you can graft another calf onto her. After those few days, she will quit milking, and be unable to raise the calf. Grafting calves onto cows who lose their own baby is sometimes a huge challenge, but usually worth it because it keeps the cow in production.
At our house, if a cow doesn't raise a calf, for any reason, she is sold. Whenever possible, we put in the effort to get a cow another calf if hers doesn't make it, assuming there is another calf who either lost its mother, or who was a twin, somewhere nearby. This also eliminates the chore of bottle feeding a calf multiple times a day, and the calf does better on a cow than on a bottle. If it all works, grafting a calf is a win/win result of whatever circumstances resulted in an extra cow or calf being around during calving season.

 As I mentioned, a successful graft can be a big challenge. A mother cow will bond with her own baby at birth, and trying to get her to accept a different one can be tough, to say the least. Ranchers try a variety of tactics to help get the cow to accept her adopted baby, sometimes with great success, and sometimes with complete failure. A cow and calf can accept each other almost immediately and love one another as if they were biologically related. Or, sometimes a cow will feed a grafted calf, but never really care about it as she would her own. Sometimes it just doesn't work at all and she will kick the calf off continuously until the rancher gives up.
In this instance, the cow is really nice, and desperately wants a baby of her own. Being able to walk around a little pen like this while grafting is rare at my house, but my fiancee said is fairly common at his.
The trouble with this draft is the baby calf has been bottle fed since birth, so he sees a human as his parent and food source. He was perfectly content to suck on fingers, and had no idea what that big black thing was in the pen with him.

 My fiancee worked at getting him to check out the cow.

 The cow was pretty responsive, and more willing to give it a try than most I've seen.

 The calf was less impressed. He informed us both that his milk came in a white jug with a red rubber nipple, delivered to his pen twice a day, and that he had no idea why we expected him to give this big black thing any of his time.

 The look of exasperation, that you all know and understand if you've ever grafted a calf. To have such a willing cow, and such a simple calf, is kind of backwards, and frustrating. Time to switch plans.

 So, he walked the cow into his single-file alleyway, and brought the friendly and confused calf into tighter quarters to help show him what life was all about.

 He was a little reluctant at first, and wanted to run and buck around the pen until his lunch was delivered.

 But, with a little more one-on-one time, guidance, and proper demonstration, he finally caught on that this whole cow thing might be alright.
How about another round of applause for the cow, too! This would not happen like this at my house, but again, my fiancee has really calm cows. She just stood there, off to the side of the alley, and let my fiancee root around behind her until the little calf was in place. Then she continued to just stand there while the calf figured out that her bag was the source of all things great in a baby calf's world. That is a good cow, and most are not like her. Many of my family's would have taken your head off more then once by now if we tried what he is doing here.

After he got everything figured out, we both stepped back to see how the initial run was going to go. The calf got a drink, and the cow didn't kick him. That's about as good as it gets on the first try when grafting a calf!
This morning, my fiancee had to get the cow back in here before she would let the calf suck, but overall, this is a highly successful pairing so far. If the calf knew about getting his meals from a cow instead of a bottle, they would probably be stuck. But, since he is a little unenlightened on how things work in the real world, he isn't really aggressive.
While two of them will likely take some special care and help for the next week or two, my best guess is that they will get it figured out and get along great.


  1. Good Job! What a nice cow! I hope all goes well. Blessings from Wisconsin.

  2. What a great cow! Most of ours would kick the living daylight out of us if we tried something like that behind them, props to him for having such calm cows!

  3. I wish our situation was this simple!!! We're on day nine trying to graft a calf onto an unwilling cow who lost her calf. We've hobbled the cow, kept the calf away...then put the calf back in with her...unhobbled her and turned them both out with our small herd...still no go. Are we destined to have to bottle feed this poor lil' unwanted calf? Appreciate your input!!

  4. Heather:
    Thanks for your email...I found it in my spam box this morning. I sent you a reply with some might be in your spam box! LOL...hope to hear back from you again.
    Karen (Life at the Rough String)