Wednesday, April 8, 2015

From Human Baby to Bovine Babies

I went from this baby in the morning ...
... to these babies in the afternoon. Let's just say I was tired at the end of it all!

Springtime means it's time to "work" baby calves. That may sound like we're sending them off to collect a paycheck. But it really means that we are doing the work by sorting, hauling and doctoring the baby calves.

When Jill and Brent were infants, I took them to well-child checks at the pediatrician. They were different than the last-minute appointments we made for ear infections and other ailments. Well-child checks were designed for the pediatrician to evaluate their health status and give any recommended vaccinations.

Our baby calves undergo a similar process each spring. For this appointment, Randy fulfills the role of "physician's assistant." He certainly doesn't have the education of a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. We do use a veterinarian for many of our cattle herd's health needs. But this is a task that Randy does, with help from Jake and me.

The process starts by gathering the mama cows and the calves. The method varies, depending on the location. To work the calves at Peace Creek, we use 4-wheelers to drive the cows and calves a half mile to the corrals and working chute. (We haven't done that this year yet.)

But, for the other three locations, we gather the cows and calves into a corral and then sort the babies from the mamas. As I've said before, I skip trying to photograph this process. I need my hands free while trying to send mamas back to the corral and keep the babies from following along.
The babies seemed more curious about me than concerned about the fact that their personal milk machines were separated by a fence. The mamas, on the other hand, vocally protested their separation from their offspring.

The mamas end up with that "first-day-of-kindergarten" feeling being separated from their babies.
"Hey, Bessie, I know they went into the barn." Oh wait! I think I hear them around the corner."
But, just like at the end of the kindergarten session for we human Mommies, the babies will be back with their mamas soon enough - right after their "doctor's appointments."
The babies go, one at at time, down a lane and into a calf cradle - a miniature squeeze chute. Jake gets the unenviable job of pushing the calves down the lane and is sometimes rewarded with a swift kick for his efforts.
The first order of business is giving each calf a number tag and notch in its left ear. This year, the numbers all start with "5" to indicate the baby was born during the 201"5" calving season.
Then, the baby calf and his friends got Tic-Tac-sized growth implants in their ears. Ralgrow is a hormone that stimulates the pituitary gland and helps the calf grow.
The $1 implant will bring a $3 return. Randy believes it's a matter of using the technology available to more efficiently grow food for consumers. And, yes, we eat the meat that we produce here on the farm and share it with our children and grandchildren.
We give each calf two injections. One is Ultrabac 7, an immunization to prevent blackleg. The other is Bovi-Shield Gold 5, which prevents viral diseases in cattle. People often question the reasons for giving immunizations to animals that will eventually enter the food chain. But these injections are like giving immunizations to our own children. It helps keep the calves healthy, and healthy cattle provide a good source of protein in the human diet.

The bull calves also become steers during their time in the chute. (The following series of three photos was taken another day, but they were better quality than the ones I took this year, so I'm using them instead.)
Randy makes an incision in the sac.
He pulls the testicles through the incision.
And then he cuts the cords, adding a squirt of iodine for germ control.

With all the steps done,  No. 529 rejoins his fellow "class"mates - none the worse for wear.
After all the calves were through the chute, we loaded them back in the trailer for the short trip back to their mamas. (If you look closely, you can see our "model," No. 529, in this photo. It was completely by chance.)
The mamas were all standing at the gate, anxiously waiting for their babies.
Out they come!
Then the sniffing and bawling commences to find the right baby.
Cue the music, "Reunited, and it feels so good!"
We sent them back to a nearby pasture to await their transport to greener summer pastures in May.
We'll have more babies to work another day.
And this Grandma was ready for a day off!


  1. I love this post. Well put together my friend.
    We will be starting this process next week. And like you, I wanna take pictures, but don't have a 4th hand! Lol!

    1. Thanks, Cheri! When you find that third or fourth hand, let me know. :-) Hope your process goes smoothly!

  2. Looks like you had a beautiful day to work calves, Kim. A sure sign of spring, getting cattle out to grass.

    Our cows are pecking away at calving. We've been getting a little moisture the last few days and hope to see some sunshine this afteroon.

    1. We would be glad to take any extra moisture off your hands!