Monday, March 4, 2013

Heather Smith Thomas — Notes from Sky Range Ranch: Brown Bug — One of Our Favorite Kitchen Calves, Part 2

After his feet thawed out, we let Brown Bug lie on some dry towels by the woodstove. We kept rubbing his feet and legs and put DMSO on them to help increase circulation. We hoped his feet hadn’t been frozen too long, or he would lose them. If we were quick enough, there was a chance that only the outsides of the legs and feet were frozen. Unlike a horse that has only one bone in the lower leg, a cow has two bones (side by side, together) with one going down to each toe. There are some blood vessels between those two bones. If we were lucky, Brown Bug’s legs might not have frozen clear to the middle, and the deeper circulation might have kept his feet alive.

We fed him with a bottle because he was still too weak to go out and nurse his mother, and we were afraid he would refreeze his feet if we took him outside — and we couldn’t bring her into the kitchen! We made a pen out of chairs, to keep him in a safe area in the kitchen so he couldn’t wander around the house if he got up from his bed of towels. After 2 days in our kitchen, having a bottle of milk every 6 hours, he was much stronger, and we decided to take him outside to nurse his mother.

We put three layers of socks on his hind legs to keep them warm, and it took all of us to hold him still and work the socks onto his feet and legs. He looked cute, with his unmatched long stockings on his hind legs. His mama was very glad to see him when Lynn carried him out to her pen, though she thought the socks smelled funny, and she tried to lick his socks off while he was nursing.

After that, we took him out to his mother once a day and fed him bottles of milk in the kitchen for his other feedings. His mother looked forward to seeing us carrying him from the house every noon (the middle of the day, when it was warmest), and she’d put her head high and sniff the air. She became very excited when she saw us coming around the corner of the house carrying her baby.

Brown Bug got excited, too. Sometimes he kicked and squirmed so much in his happy eagerness to get to Mama that he nearly kicked his socks off. He knew the routine and became very excited and impatient whenever we started putting on his socks because he knew he was about to go outside to Mama. One time in his wiggly excitement as Lynn was carrying him, the calf urinated and filled Lynn’s coat pocket with pee.

After a few days Brown Bug’s feet, just above the hooves, became swollen. They were painful as they healed, and he didn’t like to walk much. He spent most of his time lying down on his towels. But we still needed the barrier of chairs to keep him in his part of the kitchen so he wouldn’t bump into the hot stove or get up and wander around when he thought it was time for his dinner. Whenever I heated his bottle milk (from our milk cow) on the stove, he would stand up and try to help me, impatiently butting and nuzzling my legs or chewing on my clothing.

He grew fast and soon got too big to carry. We let him walk out to Mama with his socks on, helping him out the door because our kitchen floor was too slick for him to walk without sliding. After we guided him down the back steps, he could make the rest of the journey without help, following us like a big dog, around to his mother’s pen.

When the weather finally got warmer toward the end of February, we decided he could stay outside without danger of refreezing his delicate feet. We made a little house for him in one corner of his mother’s pen, with three sides and a roof — and lots of hay inside to snuggle into and keep warm. We put a gate across the opening to keep him locked in his house so he couldn’t go out and stand in the snow. We let him out three times a day to nurse his mother. Later, when the snow was gone, we took the gate away so he could go in and out of his house as he pleased. He usually slept in his house, even after he had the run of the whole pen. He didn’t lose his feet. There were sores for a while, just above his hooves where some of the skin came off, and we put medicated ointment on those raw areas until they healed — though his mama always tried to lick it off. His toes curled up at the tip as his feet grew (like a foundered horse), but after he got over the soreness he could run and buck like any other calf.

He’d been in the kitchen so long (making it awkward for us to climb over his barricade of chairs every time we went through it) that it was nice when he was finally able to go outside to his own little house. But he was such a sweet baby that we all missed him and his expectant little face always looking for dinner.

Brown Bug as a yearling

Brown Bug continued to be a pet, even after he and his mother were out in a big pasture that summer. Michael and Andrea fed him a little grain now and then. He liked to walk up to them and have the kids scratch his ears and rub him. He was their favorite of all the calves that year, and they were his favorite people. Whenever he saw them, he’d come running to greet them, with his funny clumsy gait and his funny feet. Since we couldn’t sell him with the rest of the calves that fall because of his deformed feet, we kept him another year and later butchered him as a big yearling. We were glad we were able to save his life and his feet and enjoyed him as one of our special characters that spent time in our kitchen.

Heather Smith Thomas raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising HorsesStorey's Guide to Training HorsesStable SmartsThe Horse Conformation HandbookYour CalfGetting Started with Beef and Dairy CattleStorey's Guide to Raising Beef CattleEssential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook.

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