A Treatise on Baby Calves and their Tendencies

Today we received new baby calves.  They are about 3 days old.  One of them we got a few days ago was born too early and has problems with coordination (they all have problems with coordination, but this one has excessive problems). The good thing about new baby calves it they are very cute and cuddly. But like kittens, they grow up to become mangy bulls.

One of my jobs is to feed the calves baby-milk.  We give the milk to them in a bucket, and most of them drink from their bucket with no problem.  But some of the babies won’t drink nothing (I suppose they don’t know how yet).  So it’s part of my job to learn them. 


True, I can feed the stubborn ones with a bottle (and do if worse comes to worse), but the problem with bottle-feeding calves is that it spoils them.  Then, from ever onwards, the cuddly critter expects a handfed bottle instead of drinking from their designated bucket (as good little cows should).  So first, we do everything in our power to make the little suckers drink from their pails.

For a stubborn one, I usually start with warm entreaties: swishing the milk around to make him curious.  As he comes up closer to me I’ll dip my fingers in the milk and let him suck my fingers.  As he gets the taste of the milk and wants more, I’ll start leading him toward the bucket, then put my hand in and – if all goes well, he begins lapping up breakfast (and continues to do so after I remove my hand).

Sometimes it doesn’t work so well.  Sometimes they don’t even suck my fingers, rather just loll their tongue from side to side and jerk their head as if they’re wholly insane (and they probably are).  This is bad news and means there will be a sore testing of my patience as hasn’t been seen since the days of Job. 

The best thing to do for this type of stubborn calf is to forcibly dunk its’ head into its’ milk pail so it can see what it’s missing (did I use all the its correctly?)

Today there was a little stubborn calf who was so lethargic he didn’t even want to open his mouth.  I thought it was hopeless, I cajoled him forever with middling results, finally resorting to a bottle, and even then he resisted mightily, baring his teeth at me as if I were the butcher himself, yet once getting a taste of the liquid sugar water began to drink like a parched camel from hades, downing several liters in record time.

Usually the calves are so excited to drink their milk they practically go insane loco.   I’ve seen them get so wound up they butt their heads against the gate and break it open and run out.  Then I get to run after them, tackle them, and drag them back to captivity, which is always great fun.

I saw one the other day so eagerly drinking he wasn’t paying attention to what his back end was doing, and that portion of his extremities ended up getting stuck in the poles on the side of his cage (how he managed this I’ll never know, and most likely, neither will he).  The calf ended up spread out long-ways with his head stuck in the milk bucket hanger and his back legs stuck outside the cage.  It was so funny I couldn’t stop laughing.  Finally I climbed in and helped him get un-entangled (which he was very thankful for and thanked me profusely, yet I still gave him a stern lecture on the risks of drinking while driving his back end).

When they get down to the last few drops of milk, they often lift their heads into the air (with the bucket on their snout) and walk around like that, hoping the final slurry will drain down their gullet.  This always ends up with them tossing their bucket into the mud (for me to clean up after later).

Speaking of cleaning up, I’ll say I’m mightily surprised at how routinely the calves poop in their food bucket (seems like that’s the wrong end of their body to be putting in the food bucket).  I would think this act is hardly necessary: Their food may be bland, but that spice can hardly help, I wouldn’t think.  As their hovering “mother,” I try telling them the food has enough salt in it already, yet they don’t listen, sneaking more poop in when I’m not watching.

I read in my cow book that cows have a keen sense of smell.  The book said they are exceedingly picky over their food, especially what it smells like.  But after seeing them indiscriminately poop in their food dish, I think that book must have been written by an enterprising Hindu.

Another thing they do, (cows, not Hindus) which can be infuriating is stepping into their water bucket.  Why…. oh Why?  I’ll be standing there filling up their bucket with a water hose of sweet-nectar-crystal-clear-spring-water coming straight from the bubbling fountains of the deep when they take a fancy to my muddy pants and step forward for a closer look (a closer lick is more like it) and in the process place a cloved hoof in their agua bucket – instantly turning it coal black.

My cow book says cows have a great memory.  I’ve observed their memory to be off by about 1/2 a second.  Behold, each morning when I give them their milk ration, they always put their head down into their “bucket hanger” right before I get the bucket lowered into their cage.  This results in them getting bopped on the head with their milk bucket (this I do with glee, admittedly), yet they never learn. 

So that’s all for now.  At least they’re cute, if nothing else.

6 thoughts on “A Treatise on Baby Calves and their Tendencies”

  1. 🙂 Ha ha ha!! That makes for a great story!! **sigh of release** Thanks for sharing; I needed to laugh. (Was a very busy/demanding day at work.)

    Yes, that is a cute calf!! And I’m thinking you might have a career in a rodeo when you get back. lol 😉

  2. Oh yes, the brilliancy of baby animals. Did you know that a two day old calf can run through barbed wire? (yes, I speak from experience here) At least your baby cows knock down the gate before they charge through it. That shows some intelligence doesn’t it?

  3. This story left a lot of unanswered question…

    Do kittens really become mangy bulls?
    Do insane calves grow up to be mad cows?
    When the calves knock over their pails, do you ever weep over the splattered lactate fluid? (you really shouldn’t)

  4. Seth: I’d have to say yes, cute little kittens grow to be “mangy bulls”… in attitude at least. I’ve only met a handful of cats that qualify as an exception to that rule.
    That’s my (humble) opinion, though, many of my friends disagree with me. 🙂
    (cat’s aren’t my “favorite”, if you couldn’t tell)

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