We had colder weather than usual through December and early March this winter. The cows ate a lot of straw with their daily feeding of alfalfa hay — the straw generates a lot of heat during fermentation in the rumen and helps keep them warm in the cold. One day in early February our daughter-in-law Carolyn and granddaughter Heather were helping my husband Lynn bring the straw bales out to the cows’ feeders. They drove the truck up with the straw, and chopped ice out of the water holes in the creek. While waiting for Lynn to move the feeders with the tractor, they looked at all the cows.
|Lynn moving feeder with tractor, putting it over a new bale of straw|
We assumed she aborted a 7-month fetus since she couldn’t be due to calve until April. Andrea was determined to find where the cow had calved, however, to see what happened. She hiked down through the fields, checking the brush as Lynn and I drove back home down the road with the feed truck. As we were turning into our driveway, we saw Andrea struggling across the lower field with a calf! We hurried on down the driveway and drove up through that field. Andrea had found a live, full-term calf, standing in a 4-foot deep ditch in the brush along the fence.
Its ears and feet were frozen but it was licked dry and very much alive. It was a big calf, and difficult to get up out of the ditch, but with great determination Andrea succeeded. She covered it with her coat and was bringing it across the field. We helped her load it into the pickup cab and hurried home.
I put towels on the floor by the woodstove and we carried the calf into the house to warm it. Andrea went up to her house to get more towels, a heater, and 9-year-old Dani, who wanted to help thaw out the calf, while I called Carolyn. She and Heather came down to help.
|Dani helping thaw the cold calf|
|Carolyn, Dani, and young Heather warming the calf|
|Dani and the napping calf|
We often use granddaughter Emily’s pet cow, Buffalo Girl, for leading heifers into the barn to calve. We sometimes keep her in the barn to babysit a nervous heifer. Heather’s young cow had never been in a barn. We decided to use Buffalo Girl to lead her into the barn, and kept her in the adjacent stall for company for Heather’s young cow.
|Calf, warmed up and ready to go back outside to mom|
|Calf in barn with Dani and young Heather|
We kept the cow and calf and Buffalo Girl in the barn for several days; it snowed off and on, and by Sunday we had a foot of new snow. By that time the young cow was quite at home in the barn, so we took Buffalo Girl back to the field with the other cows. After the pair had been in the barn a week, the weather warmed up. We shoveled snow out of the sheltered corners in the pen below the barn, put down some straw for bedding, and let the young cow and her baby outdoors.
She enjoyed having more room, and bucked around and played in the snow. It’s great to see her alive and feeling good, even though she will look a little funny when she grows up. Her frozen ear tips are coming off, and the frostbitten skin on her nose is peeling away. The nose skin is healing underneath, but she’ll always have short ears — a reminder of that bitterly cold day when she was born.
|Here she is, now a month old, with short ears and a peeling nose|
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 Horses, Storey's Guide to Training Horses, Stable Smarts, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Your Calf, Getting Started with Beef and Dairy Cattle, Storey's Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook. She blogs at heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com.