For those of you who follow us on Facebook, you may recall we purchased our first every dairy cow (proper term is hefir) this spring. She is naturally polled, meaning hornless & was named Star, so we kept the name. Star grew up in the barn we originally built to house our goats. We purchased her mothers milk to bottle feed her two times a day. We would have preferred to allow her to stay with her mother & nurse from her as Mother Nature intended, but the breeders/owners worried that all the bunting the baby does to mamas udders would cause her to get a mammary infection. Last year they lost a dairy cow they had for many years to "milk fever". They believe it is because they allowed her calve to nurse. These folks also like to grain their livestock & had already instructed us to start trying to get Star to consume a high energy grain feed called Calf Manna. Being organic although not certified, this was exactly not what we wanted to do. In addition to this, they would increase the price of Star every two weeks. We decided to buy Star figuring at such a small size, she would be manageable & we would learn as we go. Go ahead, laugh. All done? Let's continue.
Bottle feeding is appealing to some folks, but it really wasn't our cuppa tea. We arranged to pick up five gallons of milk two times a week. Not only was this very expensive, storing the milk required us to hook up a mini fridge sans any shelves but one in order to store the milk properly. We then had to lug out the milk, warm it on the stove, pour it into two calve nursing bottles & then walk down to the barn to feed her. Initially this feeding process took forever. First was our struggle to get the nipples on the bottles. The bottles we bought have snap on nipples. This means you have to force the base of the nipple over the opening of the bottle & finesse it onto the bottle. In the beginning this took an eternity. Our fingers were sore, we were sweating & frustrated. Oddly enough there is a trick to it & once you figure it out, the nipple does indeed snap on. Once the bottles were ready to go, we headed down to the barn to feed our hungry little baby who greeted us with knock you down enthusiasm. We stood clutching the bottle while she nursed, fussed, nursed, bunted, nursed, fussed & bunted the bottle. Her bunts were so strong we would stumble back at times & sometimes even loose our grip on the bottle. We had to tie her during feeding to reduce this nursing difficulty. In order to get the rope halter on her, we would slip it over the bottle, then when she excitedly started to nurse (latch on), we slipped the halter over her head, then secure the end to the barn wall. Wala! Insta calf restrainer. Then we would step back leaving her with very little room to actually bunt or push into us. From there we held on to the warm bottle with a hand cramping death grip while she suckled & dripped milk foam on the barn floor. When she finished her first bottle, we uncurled our cramped hands & switched over to her second bottle. We spent this time (about a half hour) letting our minds wander to the various tasks the day presented & also did a lot of troubleshooting. "While I was feeding Star I was thinking how about if we try (fill in the blank)?" conversations became the norm.
Because we were born with only two hands & two arms, once we finished feeding Star, we walked back to the house, unloaded the spent bottles, picked up two watering cans & filled them up with fresh water. We then walked back to the barn to fill her water bucket. We also provided her with loose free choice mineral (see resources), a Himalayan salt block & hay from our own pastures. Several times a day we checked to make sure her needs were met, plus we scratched her head, got licked & best of all endured her favorite activity, using our backsides to rub her nose & face vigorously. Ahh, farm life. If your clothes are clean, you are not a farmer.
Eventually feeding time sped up as her sucking ability grew stronger. Things went smashingly well when we purchased two new feeding nipples called EZE Calf Nipples that were not only easier to pop on & off the bottles, but also had a much improved milk flow. The improved milk flow almost eliminated Star's desire to bunt the bottle. At this point Star was getting bigger & more rambunctious. She would charge up to us, block us from walking, rub all over us, & generally shove us around. The folks we bought her from instructed us to "Punch her in the nose." & demonstrated the process on their own cows. It clearly didn't hurt them, but they were obviously upset about it. The best description was one of dejection, "What did I do?" In no time at all we tried this on Star. The results were no where near as effective. Star didn't really seem to care. All this did was get her to stay a few inches back while huffing, snuffing & dancing around in youthful excitement. If you are wondering, we do not punch Star in the nose not because it's "mean", cattle are tough, but because it doesn't work. Mostly we stomp our feet &/or make odd noises at her that get her to stop doing whatever it is we would rather she stopped doing.
The process really started to speed up four months later when we started to wean her by cutting down to one bottle twice a day. Add the awesome EZE nipple & her super sucking ability into the equation & feeding time flew by. She no longer had to be restrained, we just stood on the other side of the electric polywire & she no longer bunted the bottle, therefore we didn't drop the darn thing or loose our balance. The hardest part at this point was the copious amounts of water she would guzzle. We had to fill her bucket at minimum of three times a day in the 95 degree heat. Lugging buckets of water back & forth with no shade in intense heat (most days we had heat warnings) isn't fun, nor is having a thirsty heifer bumping into you causing you to spill the water or for whatever reason cattle have, for hitting the water jug while you are pouring into the water bucket so that half of it spills onto the ground.
Despite the physical hardships & being covered in cow snot, Star has for the most part been a pleasure to raise. She loves to have her head scratched, especially under her chin. She loves being with us. We even let her loose on our entire property for several days while we worked on moving our electric fencing (we do not recommend letting large livestock loose to go wherever). She followed us everywhere & also caused a lot of mischief. She tore a huge hole in one of our green houses because she had an itch on her head. She constantly pulled everything & anything out of our burn pile & scattered it about. She would go into one of our goat barns & drink all of their water rather than drink her own. She pulled the laundry off of the line & stood at the fence surrounding our home mooing her head off when we were inside. In many ways she was like a 250lb puppy with hooves.
Once she got big enough & we were ready to wean her completely we set her up in our third pasture where our pond is so she could be close to the house & have access to plenty of fresh water.
Up next, You Can Lead A Heifer To Water But...
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