Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nelly, one week old

Last year we bought Dorie, a pregnant beef cow, at auction. One of the horses kicked her and sent her into premature labour. The calf was breached and still born. We learned to milk her, and enjoyed fresh milk, butter and yogurt for several months. We also tried raising bottle calves, unfortunately without success.

Earlier this spring we bought 3 cows at auction, another pregnant cow, and two yearling heifers. Last week Susie delivered some time through the night/early morning. We found her dead in the pasture in the morning. She had a beautiful heifer calf, up, active and clean at her side. She was delivering a second calf, breached, when she passed.

I left the boys to take care of getting the calf up to the chicken coop/rabbitry/milk barn... A little shack at the side of our pasture with many uses. It was already housing Mama and her two kids, Chance & Choice, born the week before. I headed off to town for milk replacer. The boys got her inside and rubbed her down to make sure she was dry.

Mama and the kids accepted their new room mate with no qualms. They even slept cuddled together the first couple of days. We started bottle feeding Nelly the milk replacer. At first she refused the bottle. She needed time to adjust to the loss of her mother. We aren't sure whether she had the chance to nurse before Susie passed, so she might not have gotten any colostrum. It was several hours and attempts before she finally started eating. From then we fed her 1L every three hours. Gotta love those 3am feedings!

The first few days seemed to be going pretty well. She ate voraciously. She got up and walked around every time we went to feed or check on her. She even ventured outside one sunny afternoon. On day 3 I noticed that she seemed to be getting bonier. Her spine and hips were showing more than they had at birth. We increased her feed to 2L every three hours. The next morning, I increased her feed again, to 2.5L every three hours. She finally seemed to be satisfied. And then she refused her third feeding that day. I wasn't too concerned about it. I thought sleep was a good thing. She ate again at the 4th feeding time, missed the 5th. She wasn't getting up much. The kids slept on the other side of the barn. It concerned me that Mama didn't want her kids near the calf.

The next morning I noticed a spot of blood on her tail, and some diarrhea on her side. Bottle fed calves are at high risk for scours, leading to diarrhea and death. Scours can be caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses. It must be managed quickly, or the calf will die. I had been searching the net for all the info I could find on raising calves for days, hoping for better results with Nelly than in our previous attempts at bottle calves. The first calf had died from scours and diarrhea at about 3 weeks. The second was a combination of scours, diarrhea and starvation at 2 months. This time I was better prepared. There is a fine line between over and underfeeding a calf. Too much feed causes scours. Their stomachs are not developed enough to handle it. Too little causes starvation. When the second calf had become too thin, I increased it's feed and again caused scours.

My internet search had led me to an article about probiotics rather than antibiotics. I mixed a tablespoon of yogurt into her formula. She continued to eat every 6 hours, but only got up on her feet twice that day. I increased the yogurt to 2 tablespoons per bottle. Cut her feed back to 2L. No more signs of diarrhea, but she remained listless. In the morning, I was happy to see her curled up again with the kids. I took it as a sign that she was on the mend. She continued eating every six hours, with yogurt, no signs of diarrhea, and slept with the kids again. Today she is one week old, and once again a hungry, energetic calf, who doesn't seem to be presenting any health risks
obvious to Mama.

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