The Nursery


 It was New Year’s Day.  No, let me back that up some.  It was about eight o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Day. My ears were still ringing from the band that played too loudly the night before and my head could feel a pulse, plus my stomach was still slightly off of level with a hint of a hangover.  I wanted to make my rounds feeding cattle and be home near noon to take in the series of bowl games.  While driving past a lease pasture of mine on the way to our River Ranch, I noticed all cattle were up and grazing but one.  She was stretched out flat on her side.

 I rolled some hay out at the River for the mommas there, plus the heifer pasture, then took a bale back to my lease tract.  All of the cattle came to my call except one.  I headed over to the down cow and found her in trouble.

 She was on her right side and did not try to stand when I approached.  All I could see was the tip of a calf nose and two front hooves protruding from her.  At least the calf was positioned correctly.  I grabbed hold of the calf’s front hooves and pulled and moved the calf about three inches but that is all I could do.  Luckily, I had some nylon cord that was about a half-inch wide and fairly long in the back of my truck.  I drove the nose of my truck right up to the rear of the cow and tied the cord around the calf’s front feet then to my bumper.  When I took the slack out I was far enough away to see the cow while craning my neck to see over the truck’s hood.

Rocky 1
Rocky after he was pulled

  I then S L O W L Y backed up inch by inch. The cow stiffened her rear legs out but the calf slid out with no problem.  I expected the worst.  The calf had to be dead from its appearance.  No telling how long it was trapped in the cow’s birth channel.  His head was freakishly misshapen and swollen to twice the size and its tongue was bigger than normal with purple dots here and there lolling out the side of its mouth.  When I approached to take off the nylon cord, low and behold the thing blinked its eye at me.  I went back to my truck and got a couple of thick paper shop towels and wiped the mucus out of the calf’s nose and mouth.  It blinked its eyes another time then I depressed its ribs and it made a slight barely audible cough and I noticed its nose flare with its first breath.  Well look at this!

Rocky 2
Rocky about an hour later

 I drove back to our camp house to retrieve a bottle.  When I returned to the patients, the cow was still stretched out on her side so I slowly approached her, patted her side a bit, then reached down and milked the two teats I could reach and retrieved perhaps three or four ounces of precious milk containing the important colostrum that all baby calves need.  That was easy but getting it down this deformed calf head was a problem.  The calf had a feeble suck reflex, but due to its swollen head, mouth and tongue, nothing was going down.  It could barely swallow.  I knelt by its side, held the head up, and slowly and methodically pressed its lower jaw/tongue against its upper palate working milk out of the bottle.  Once every minute or so the poor thing would swallow so I guess a little milk was working its way home.

 Goodbye football games.  Goodbye nice noon meal.  I stayed with that poor calf from mid-morning until around four o’clock in the afternoon.  After about two hours, the momma struggled to her feet and wobbled off.  She had a pinched nerve and limped badly but she could travel fast enough that my milk supply was gone. It didn’t matter.  I did not think the calf would live.


 About a week later, at the River Ranch, I noticed a cow that appeared to have twins.  She was alone and had two babies that although I never saw both nursing, were acting like they belonged to the single cow.  The next day both were still near the same cow.  How cool is that?

 The weekend rolled around and it was a pretty day so my daughter Kate and I were tootling around in my Polaris Ranger looking at the cattle.  When I found the cow that supposedly had twins there was only one baby obviously attached to her and a different cow was at her side worrying over a calf.  I told Kate I guess I was wrong about the twins since this momma clearly belongs to the other calf.  Keep in mind calves were dropping all over the place.  About 20 calves had hit the ground in two weeks.  All were from the same bull.  Do you think he was busy? 

 A few more days passed and when I came to the ranch in the morning, low and behold there is a starving drawn up baby calf about one mile from the pasture the cows were in and it was following my horses trying to nurse (to the amusement of my horses!).  It was weak as a noodle with flanks caved in.  Here was the other twin. 

 Unfortunately, cows can’t count.  One of the twins likely took a nap while the other sibling and mother moved off.  The cow is content having one calf nursing and she continues about her routine while the other baby wakes up, calls for momma but due to distance or wind she can’t hear and the napping twin gets left behind. 

 I think this calf nursed for a couple days and then had roughly 3-4 days of nothing.  The poor animal wandered around aimlessly and luckily saw some animals to approach, so I found it in our horse trap.  I prepared a bottle and it readily gulped the entire package.  By this time, the calf had lost its peculiar smell. The momma did not recognize him so she would not have anything to do with the stranger.  It was up to me to be the nurse maid.


bottle calves 004
Feeding the babies with my dog Bonnie (back) and neighbor’s dog BB standing guard


My nephew, Tye Gunn, named the first calf “Rocky” because he is a fighter.  To come back and survive the rough start he had is miraculous.  I named the second calf “Deuce” since it is a twin.  My wife and I bottle feed both at our home.  Both come to my driveway early morning then again late evening for their 2-3 quart feeding.  Often, Rocky walks over our shallow cattle guard drive way and follows me into the yard and I actually close the door on his nose while he tries to follow me into my home office where I now sit typing these words.