Calving is now in full swing and whilst everything to this point has come out alive, it has not been without its problems.
Problem number one began two weeks ago when a 14-year-old cow calved down with a set of twins. One male and one female and calved unassisted. Now when this cow was inseminated last January, she had three teats. During the summer she lost another quarter to summer mastitis and when she calved down, although she had two working quarters, she really only had milk in one of them.
I hummed and hawed for a while but knew whatever hope she had of rearing one calf, she had no hope of rearing two. I took the heifer calf away from her and began to feed it with a bottle, which she took to straight away.
If a calf is getting any milk from its mother at all, it would rather die that suck a bottle
I kept a close eye on the bull calf and although his eyes were always bright, his mouth warm and he always gave a good old stretch every time he stood up, I knew from his empty appearance and the amount of nudging he was doing at his mothers elder that he just wasn’t getting enough milk.
I tried to top him up with a bottle but anyone who has ever been in a similar situation will know, if a calf is getting any milk from its mother at all, it would rather die that suck a bottle.
My only options were to either take it away from its mother completely and try to bottle feed it, but again I knew in my heart that getting it to drink from a bottle was always going to be a struggle or mix him and his mother with a few other cows and calves and hope that he would learn to steal from another cow.
So that is what I did and it does seem to be working as I have seen him suckling from another cow in the pen. Time will tell how well it works out.
The second problem happened a week ago and was along the same lines. Cow calved down herself, a Simmental X Friesian with a nice big bag of milk, (or so I thought). I had to go away for an hour and fully expected the calf to be up and sucking when I got back. But it was not to be.
When I got back the calf was still lying it the same spot that I had left it with the cow lying beside it. I proceeded to get the calf to its feet, but it was one of those big dopey calves and it was not playing ball. I then proceeded to milk the cow and feed the calf and to my horror the cow had what looked like E coli mastitis in two quarters and not a lot of milk in the other two. I got some powdered colostrum and fed the calf and injected the cow with antibiotics.
The calf did not stand for 24 hours so I continued to feed it, making sure it got plenty of colostrum. But it would not suck a bottle so I had no choice but to stomach tube it. Of course, when it did stand it still had no interest in sucking, not even from its mother.
The idea is to mimic the calf being re-born, the pressure makes the calf think it is coming through the birth canal
The Madigan squeeze
So, I decided to try a technique that I’d often heard about but never tried, a technique called the Madigan squeeze. The technique was originally developed to get dummy foals to suckle and is now used in calves as well.
It works by wrapping a soft rope around the calf to put pressure on it’s chest, the calf should lie down on its side when the pressure is applied and the rope should be left on for around 20 minutes. The idea is to mimic the calf being re-born, the pressure makes the calf think it is coming through the birth canal and triggers endorphins and hormones and triggers that natural suckling instinct.
As I said I’ve never tried it before but had heard other farmers saying that they had successfully used it so I thought I had nothing to lose. YouTube is great for learning anything.
But low and behold it worked and the calf was up sucking the next morning. I still don’t know will the cow be able to rear the calf but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
My wife has been on to me for years about getting her a pet Jersey cow, if this calving season continues the way it has been for the past couple of weeks, she may just get her wish. Looking at a Jersey cow is bound to be easier that bottle feeding all these calves!