Tag Archives: bottle calf
The shit my Dad has been giving me lately, about not having kids, is reaching rather remarkable proportions. Why, you ask. Because our new neighbors have one of the cutest little boys, ever. Wyatt is 3, soon to be 4. His Parents, Megan and Jared, moved next door to our summer ranch in the mountains and I just got to meet them this spring.
I was already a fan of these neighbors before I even met them because they wanted pigs. They had some of my heritage pork last summer and knew they need to raise their own. This just tickled me because, as you all know, promoting heritage pork is one of my pet projects. The first time I met them in real life was when I delivered 5 pigs to their house. Since then our pig plans have grown, but that’s for another post.
They’ve been a huge help around the ranch, we tend to get really excited about that. My Dad and I both have really enjoyed getting to know them, and hanging out with Wyatt, which has lead to my Dad’s grandpa fever. I’ll even admit, Wyatt is starting to even make me think about dating again (DO NOT TELL MY DAD I SAID THAT!).
As I mentioned before, Wyatt has a birthday coming up, so it was decided that he needed something special. Something that he could grow with, teach him stuff and maybe eventually make some money from (you know, for school). Obviously, the answer was a little heifer bottle calf.
We always end up with a few bottle babies every year, some we sell to neighbors that need to graft a calf and sometimes I keep them to sell as a beef. We started looking for just the right calf for Wyatt, one that would make a good cow in a few years. She also needed to have a nice attitude. We had a poor old cow die during birth, it does happen once in a while. The little heifer that was born, that now had no mama, was sweet and calm, perfect for the birthday boy. Wyatt named his calf, Sally.
It’s important to my family that we expose kids to production agriculture. We know we live a unique existence and we want to share that with people that have an interest in what we do. We’re also being terribly selfish because in just a few short years, Wyatt is going to be amazing help on the ranch!
Wyatt is going to feed this baby all summer. When we move down to the valley she is going to come down with the rest of the cows and enjoy a mild winter with lots of grass. Next year when it’s time for Sally to have a bullfriend, we’ll make sure that happens so Wyatt can expand his herd.
We’re excited to watch Wyatt and Sally grow up together. We can already see it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship and hopefully a long line of black angus cows and delicious meat!
I thought this would be a nice time to share a “mess-up” we had on the ranch. This particular cow and her calf have been a “mess-up” for the better part of 8 months. It’s important to share that, just like everyone else, we screw up.
Since I quit my full-time, town job last spring my Parents have been generous with giving me cattle to sell. They do this so I have an income, and I appreciate it greatly. Right now I am finishing some steers to sell as beef, and in the past I’ve sold shares in “hamburger cows“. A ‘hamburger cow’ is a healthy cow that for some reason did not get bred and/or have a calf, so she is “open“. Since she is open, she isn’t doing her “job” for us, therefore she us costing us money. Most people don’t realize, but it takes years for a cow to become profitable for a ranch. If enough cattle don’t do their ‘job’ and raise a calf, it could potentially cost a ranch a lot of money. As a cattleperson, it is one of your many jobs to make sure you don’t have many ‘open’ cows.
Most cattlepeople will just “cull” a cow that is open. Depending on the year, it doesn’t make economical sense to keep a cow a whole year when she isn’t producing and she isn’t guaranteed to have a calf the next year. When we have open cows, I like to turn them into a hamburger cows if I can. It breaks my heart to see a big, healthy cow that we’ve had for a couple years go to the sale yard, even if she isn’t doing her job.
Since I have many, many friends that are on the paleo diet right now, they want lean, grass-finished hamburger. Hamburger cows are exactly that – healthy, lean beef that has had nothing but grass and meadow hay to eat her whole life. By turning our cull cows into hamburger cows, everyone wins. My cow gets a quality death at home, my local paleo eaters get wonderful beef, and I get a paycheck.
This brings me to my story…..
Last summer, my Parents gave me a hamburger cow in celebration of me quitting my job. I was excited about it because in my head I was thinking that I would use the money to buy myself a shinny new horse! This particular cow was fat, and she was open, we were sure of it! When we moved the other cows up to the mountains,we cut her back and she lived in a field next to the house for a few weeks, until I called and made THE APPOINTMENT. In the meantime, I’d found a group of people that wanted to buy her for a hamburger share. They were excited about having great burgers to grill all summer and I was already imagining that new horse smell.
Right before I made the appointment, we noticed something one morning. A calf. My open, sold, cull cow had a bull calf! It was a problem on levels! I had to go back and explain to my hamburger cow buyers that I did not, in fact, have a cow for them. Then we had to worry about having a pair on the winter ranch, during the summer – the heat, stickers and predators are deadly. We figured we would need a replacement calf at some point during the summer, and we could use him (a replacement calf is when a cow needs a baby because for whatever reason her calf didn’t survive). Oddly enough this year ended up being the ‘year of twins’, he stayed with his Mom all summer.
Fast forward to now. This bull calf spent the past 6 months with little to no human interaction, he’s had no vaccinations, no brand, he still is ‘intact’ and he is wild! We felt especially tough last week and decided it was time to get this little bull calf in and in the words of my father “change his mind from @ss to grass” or castrate him. Since it was the year of the twins, we also had a house herd of bottle calves that needed to be vaccinated and branded. Last week was the perfect opportunity to tie up all of out loose ends, and “work” (work means to castrate, brand and vaccinate) these calves.
We were able to work the bottle calves with no problem. They received their vaccinations and were de-wormed. They also got an earmark and a brand so if they got lost or stolen, we could identify them and bring them home. Next up, the Hamburger Cow’s bull calf. Since this calf has had no human interaction, he was scary to be around. If I would have given him the chance, he would have gladly jumped on top of me and done a little dance on my head. Don’t worry, I didn’t give him that chance!
We dislike castrating calves when they are this old. We feel that the earlier it is done, the less stress is causes the calf. Unfortunately, because of the mess-ups we had with this cow and calf, we were left no choice. Luckily, he is a nice, healthy calf and he handled it well and is fine.
There are several ways to work cattle. Some producers will use horses and rope their calves to work them, and some will use chutes. We feel like using a chute is less stressful for both our animals and us, so that is why we choose to use a chute and a corral systems instead of horses and ropes.
Our calf table catches and squeezes the calves to keep them calm. For the bull calves, we flip the chute/table on it’s side to preform the castration. The chute is built for this exact purpose, and it works well. HOWEVER, since our particular bull calf was a complete and udder mess-up, this didn’t work like it was supposed to. After our calf had been castrated and we tried to flip him back on his feet, but he just kept going. The calf table tipped the wrong way, WITH THE CALF STILL IN IT. I’d never seen that happen before, in all my years on the ranch.
Thankfully, the calf got out fine. He was let back out into the field with is Mom and has since recovered from his ordeal. I sincerely hope we are done with mess-ups with this pair!
This has been our epic mess-up. Despite our best plans, sometimes nothing works out the way we planned. In animal agriculture I re-learn that lesson everyday. Animals always make life interesting!
It’s that time of year again. Calving season. Inevitably we always end up with a bottle calf or two. It’s actually a good thing because if we have a calf die (it does happen, no matter what), we can give the Mama cow a new baby, thus keeping that cow productive (that is her only job on the Ranch, to raise a healthy baby calf). If you want to know more about calf grafting please read this blog I wrote about it last year.
In this calf’s case, she was born a twin. Typically with commercial beef cattle, you tend not to let them raise twins. If we had a nice little dairy barn and a lot of extra time to play with the cow and twins, we might consider it, but in this case we like having a replacement calf. Because this heifer is a twin with a bull calf, there is about an 90% chance she will be a freemartin. A freemartin means she will never be able to conceive a calf – for more Ranch terms check out this blog.
This baby was born yesterday and did spend time with her Mama, meaning she got to suck some colostrum. Colostrum is the first milk expressed my the Mama cow, the milk is high in antibodies that will protect the calf. Since she was still under 24 hours old when I got her, I decided to give her another little shot of it. We want healthy babies on this ranch! Healthy babies equal a healthy, happy herd!
I’m very careful to heat the colostrum on the oven, so I can make sure it doesn’t get too hot and pasteurize itself. Also I don’t want to burn the little baby!
Growing up here on the ranch, it was often my job to care for the bottle babies and the sick pen. I got really good at doctoring dehydrated calves and teaching the new ones to suck. It is one of my favorite jobs on the ranch because calves are stinking cute and I love to make things feel better. In fact, I got so good at bottle babies one of mine ended up getting reserve grand champion at our local fair, something “they” said couldn’t be done.
I have this new baby for a while, until my Dad needs a replacement. What should I name her? If you are a local and I select your name as her name, I’ll give you a pound of our grassfinished hamburger (it’s so good grilled for burgers!). What do you think???
Our cattle start calving (or giving birth) in June. This is usually a very busy time on the Ranch, in addition to the babies being born, we are also making hay, selling and shipping our commercial cattle and taking care of the day-to-day ranch chores. It is anything but “the simple life”.
Inevitably we always end up with a bottle calf or two. This happens for a couple reasons. The first being sometimes you have twins! Our beef cows generally are not equipped to raise two calves, so one twin becomes a bottle baby. The second reason is sometimes you lose a cow in birth, but you can save the calf. And finally the third reason is sometimes your neighbors will have extra calves but no extra time, so they will sell you their bottle babies.
We like to have an extra bottle calf on the ranch. Why you ask? Well, it takes around 6 years for a beef cow to be profitable on a ranch. That means you have to keep that cow healthy, happy and producing a calf, ever year, so you can continue to ranch. If you aren’t able to keep your cattle happy and healthy – they will not breed back and you will not have a product (calves) to sell. If you don’t have a product to sell, you won’t make money. If you do not make money, you will go out of business. This is a fact I think we can all agree on.
Say you have a nice young cow that for some reason or another (maybe she ate a poisonous plant), lost her calf. Instead of culling (or selling) that cow because she isn’t producing, you “graft” a bottle calf onto that cow. That calf gets a new Mom that loves it, and the cow gets a baby to love and raise and the cattleperson gets to keep a nice, young, healthy cow and a calf to sell next year! Everyone wins!
So far this summer, we’ve had 3 bottle babies. It’s been the summer of twins! We’ve already grafted one calf on to a cow, but we still have two bottle babies on the Home Ranch that my Mom and I (mainly my Mom), are taking care of right now. I thought it would be a fun little blog post to show my readers how we bottle feed our babies! Enjoy!