Monday, October 14, 2013

Heather Smith Thomas: Freddy and Her Twins

Heather Smith Thomas has been raising cattle since she was twelve years old, and every month, she shares with us stories from her Idaho ranch. This month, she profiles Freddy, who is, as Heather puts it, one of our best old cows.

Freddy is an 11-year-old whitefaced cow, a nice mix of breeds with good hybrid vigor. 

This spring she had a nice bull calf that our 8-year-old granddaughter named Thunder Bull. Freddy’s always raised exceptionally good calves, with names like Freddy Lynn, Foible, Zorro Lightning Face, and Freddy George. 

Freddy and her calf Freddy George in 2009

In her eleven years of life, Freddy’s had eleven calves because, when she was three years old, she had twins.

She didn’t raise the twins — they were born prematurely. One of them didn’t survive, and though the second twin arrived alive and alert, he wasn’t strong enough to stand. His hair was very short and he weighed only 30 pounds. He was frail and chilled, so we took him to the trailer house to warm him by the wood stove. As soon as we had him indoors, it started to rain hard, and we were glad we’d brought him in.

Freddy's premature calf sleeping in the trailer house by the wood stove 

The little calf drank from the bottle of colostrum we gave him, but by evening was weak and dull and refused to nurse. He’d developed pneumonia and needed intensive care, but everyone was too busy to give him the attention he required.

Luckily, our grandchildren, Nick (age 12) and Heather (age 14), were on spring break from school and were able to help. They brought the calf to their house two miles up the creek, where he lived in their basement by the stove. They used a dose syringe to trickle warm milk down this throat every couple of hours.

Young Heather sat with the little calf for most of the next two days, reading to him, listening to music, petting him, and feeding him. The calf began to respond, no longer dull and weak. He wouldn’t drink a bottle, receiving milk only through the dose syringe, but Heather worked with him and got him to suck her finger. From there, she got him to suck the bottle again. She named him Red Chili Pepper.

Soon, he was strong enough to stand up, and then he was running and bucking around their basement. They had to create a barricade of chairs to keep him in his corner. Nick spent a lot of time down on his hands and knees playing and butting heads with the calf. Little Red loved to play. One day, when Lynn arrived to deliver a midday bottle feeding, Red Pepper charged at him like a miniature fighting bull.

That summer, we raised six orphans and twins on bottles. Red Chili Pepper is the red guy in the center.

Finally, he was strong enough to live outside, and joined five orphan calves we were feeding on bottles that year. We gave him to our grandchildren — they earned him!
Red Chili Peper as a big calf that fall. We gave him to our grandkids.

Meanwhile, Freddy recovered from her tough calving, and we put her and a heifer that she adopted after her first twin’s death, up in the field with the other cattle. She did a nice job raising that calf, and went on to have many more of her own.
Freddy as a three-year-old, with her adopted heifer, Bambi
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. She blogs at

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