Every spring we are privileged to experience the unique joy of calving season.I say privileged because I do not know of any greater rejuvenation of soul and spirit than seeing a newborn calf lying on the pasture and its mother doling out affection as she licks it clean. Seeing a calf rise for the first time on wobbly legs and instinctively find its way to that first vital meal of mother’s milk.Or standing in warm spring sunshine witnessing the pure entertainment of calves frolicking with ch other in the warm spring sunshine.Not a person on earth could help but smile at their fresh antics. It makes you feel that all in the world is as it should be and it is good.
Yet, into this idyllic picture there is the occasional blemish that causes you alarm.There might be that calf that presents in mal-position and causes dystocia (difficulty in delivery) requiring prompt intervention to save the calf. We carefully select our breeding animals for calving ease and this is rare.
There is also the occasional time when a calf does not nurse its mother. It is critical for a calf to consume its mother’s first milk, called colostrum.Colostrum is full of antibodies that give the calf passive immunity from disease,without it survival is risky.There only exists a small window of opportunity for this passive immunity to occur. Past about 36 hours from birth the calf does not have the ability for the antibodies to pass into the bloodstream and the colostrum does no good, it is like never getting it in the first place.
When we see a calf that looks weak and the mother has obviously not been nursed we consider it an emergency. We carry the calf and walk the mother in to the barn and check to see if we can determine the cause.
Such was the case this morning. Mark had noticed a new calf born late yesterday and observed this morning that the mother’s udder was distended and that the calf had obviously not nursed. He took the calf on the 4-wheeler and the mother followed along to the barn. Once at the barn he put the mother in the chute and examined her udder.All four teats were plugged.There is a waxy substance in the lower teat canal before birth that impeds any milk flow and protects from the loss of colostrum. This is usually dislodged when the new calf starts to nurse but not always.
Perhaps, the plug is too large or the calf is for some reason inefficient in dislodging it.We manually dislodged the plugs, milked the colostrums into a milk bucket, filled a bottle with the colostrum from the mother and allowed the calf to nurse from the bottle.The calf seemed instantly revived with the nourishment. We placed the mother with the calf in a small pen for a while until we observed the calf nursing on its own with no problems.
It is a feel-good task;all in the world is as it should be and it is good.