Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that require us to pour everything we have into it. Sometimes those situations turn out to be hugely rewarding. Other times they don’t.
When Giving it All You’ve Got Still Isn’t Enough
We recently took on an entire herd of 23 American Tarentaise cows for lease. The deal is that we will feed them (graze and hay) for a year and we get to keep half the calves. This is a phenomenal opportunity for us and the future of our family’s grass fed beef operation.
Calving season began and we were beyond excited. These calves mean so much to us, this is the beginning of a legacy we will build for our children, their children, and so on and so forth. Many future generations will benefit from this seed we are planting now.
As the calves began hitting the ground, the excitement built. We had one mama cow give birth to twins, a heifer and a bull calf. This is fun and exciting even though the heifer is probably what they call a free martin.
Short explanation is that a female twin born with a male twin receives too much male hormone in utero and will be infertile as a result. The likelihood of free martin status is 90%. Either way, she will add to our farm as a breeder (10% chance) or as a beef to sell.
The bull calf from the twins was weaker and not able to nurse at first. We were fortunate to get colostrum form a friend for him and he got better. He still struggled to nurse a bit but the heifer was strong and nursing well.
The day after the twins were born, two other cows calved, one had a heifer and the other a bull. We always check the calves several times a day and everyone seemed to be doing well so far.
When the newest calves were 2 days old, it was a cool and rainy morning. Derek went out to check on them and found the newest little bull calf laid out flat and barely breathing. He actually thought he was dead until he got right to him.
Derek scooped the calf up and ran him straight to the house. He ran through the door with this poor little limp calf in his arms. Our entire family jumped right in and started drying him and warming him as fast as we could.
We grabbed towels to rub him and stimulate him and I started blow drying his little body. Without even being asked to, Jack (16 years old), grabbed towels and a blanket and threw them in the dryer to warm them.
The bull calf’s temperature was around 94° which is considered extreme hypothermia in a calf. We needed to warm him to 101.5° and then get some warm milk in him which we did. He seemed to perk up a bit and tried to stand. We really thought he was going to pull through.
We took him back to the barn with heat lamps and got his mama in with him. We were hoping she would lick him and stimulate him more than we could. She didn’t want anything to do with him. This was a sad blow. We kept on working and working with him to keep him warm and alert. We even managed to milk his mama a little to get some colostrum in him.
As the day progressed he deteriorated and began having seizures, quit sucking the bottle, and eventually became completely lethargic.
The bull calf died on us even after all of the effort we put in to him.
It was hard and heartbreaking for our entire family. This isn’t the first animal that we’ve lost and I’m sure it won’t be the last but it never doesn’t hurt. It shouldn’t not hurt. It’s all part of the life cycle and you are always close to that on a farm.
There are times that you just give it everything, you fight SO hard but it just isn’t enough. That’s a hard pill to swallow. You can feel like a failure and eat yourself up with the could’ve-should’ve mentality OR you can choose to learn from the experience, know that you did everything you possibly could do, and most importantly to us know that you’ve set an example for your children and they’ve learned an important life lesson.
It really breaks my mama heart to see my kids sad and hurting over a loss like this. I am so proud of all of them and how they jumped into action and gave it their everything to try to save one little calf’s life. They learned that no matter the outcome, they did the right thing and that’s what matters the most.
The Silver Lining
Now, that I’ve told you a very sad tale. Let me ease your sadness a little with the silver lining of this story. As much as I wish the calf had lived and our efforts to save him had worked, it doesn’t all end in heartbreak.
Remember the twin calves? You know how I mentioned the bull twin just wasn’t quite as strong as the heifer? Well, we were able to give him to the mama cow that lost her calf. Mind you, it isn’t always a simple task to get a cow to accept another calf that’s not hers.
With hardly and effort on our part, she took him as her own! Queue the happy tears! We helped him nurse on her the first time and then by morning, he was nursing on his own and she was treating him like he was her baby! This helps soothe the sadness we felt.
By her taking the twin, we helped ease the stress on the twin mama and ease the stress on her from losing her calf. Obviously, if I had my way, the one calf would have lived and thrived but that wasn’t the case so this was the best scenario with what we had to deal with.
Farming is hard, I’m not gonna lie and tell you it’s not. Days where you fight for a life and don’t win makes you question why you’re doing all of this but when you turn the bad situation around, you quickly remember why. The rewards of this life go so far beyond what I can explain in a simple blog post.
I’m so grateful to live on a farm and I’m even more grateful to raise my children here.