This year, sadly, Butterfly’s calf didn’t make it. We think it was born dead or died shortly afterwards.
Butterfly always hides her calf in the bush for a few days to a week after calving. When we saw she had halved in size, but no calf with her, we were not too worried. By the third day of looking for the calf, of patiently stalking her watching to see if she would go and tend to it, I started to get rather worried. Her udder was big, but her udder is always massive in those first few days. So I got her in to milk her (with much drama and a few bruises) to take the pressure off.
The fourth night, I decided to go out with a torch, in the hope I would see the calf’s eyes with the torch. After traipsing around in drizzly rain through wet undergrowth with ten curious cows and one calf following me, for quite some time, I snapped, and yelled to the cows, “Just show me where this calf is already will you lot of hairy-@r$ed bovine buttbrains!”. They all started mooing, and took off, out of the bush, at a run. I followed, jumped on the quad, and whenI caught up to them a couple of hundred metres away, they were standing in a circle, mooing still, around the dead calf. Bless them for understanding me.
The next problem that I then had is one very milky, and no doubt sad, Butters. I got her back into the yards to milk. Now, when we got Butters, it was for her big, lovely udder, and for three years I’ve tried to milk her, with nothing to show for it but bruises. I’ve managed to milk her down one time after each calf, as she seriously overproduces milk, and the poor little wee things can’t keep up with it. So I tried to milk her, and she tried to kick some new bendy points into my arms. Got the job done eventually with some help from Jon, a bucket of carrots and molasses, I swear she had tears of relief running down her face.
I made a couple of calls and managed to source a dairy calf from a local dairy, thinking that if I can’t milk Butters, maybe a calf can. And that if I can milk her, and she rejects the calf, then I might as well feed the milk to the calf (and keep a bit for us).
A big group of friends were all down camping, so I grabbed two of the young lads, Charlie and Riley, and off we went to the dairy to bring home a Fresian Bull.
There’s a lot of negative press around about the oppressed lives of long suffering dairy calves, but I have to say, this was one very slick, smooth, spotless operation. I was more than impressed, and saddened that a few bad operators and a lot of alarmist news stories/posts may ruin the excellent reputation of those who take exceptional care of their animals. Those calf pens were cleaner than my house, absolutely beautifully maintained, clean, dry and sheltered, then turned out onto beautiful green pasture. The dairy guy walked into a pen with three day old calves, and the one that latched on to his finger the quickest, was the one we took. Charlie and Riley were running around all excited checking out all of the calves, they were all so cute.
I had told all the kids that they could name him, but that they had to agree on a name between them. They came up with Elberto, Maximoo, Patches… and a few more. Then Charlie and Bella’s Nan arrived and suggested Elvis, so Elvis it is. Funnily enough, this little guy has a booming deep voice that matched the name. Our Dexter calves have high pitched soprano bleats that sound like lambs compared to Elvis’ baritone.
When he got there Elvis was a wee skinny little guy, and although a few days younger than the other Dexter calves, he was already twice their size. He took to Butters without issue, and she even let him suckle. I had to put her in the race to do this, then turn her around the other way, but joy of joys it worked.
Then the little fella got scours. The shits. Really bad. Turns out, that as Butterfly had some pretty bad mastitis, I had resorted to antibiotics from the vet. Forgot to mention withholding milk from calves. So, Elvis went onto some anti-scour mix, got probiotics to help his tummy bacteria recover, and I started hand milking Butterfly. Well what do you know, the cranky, kicky, un-milkable cow stood there for me, meek as a lamb, and let me milk her as if she’d done it her whole life. I nearly fainted with shock. I had to keep throwing the milk as it was still in withholding for the antibiotics, but once it was doubly outside the withholding period over, we started drinking it and feeding it back to the little guy.
Clever me thought, yeehaa, she is letting me milk her, I’m getting a milking machine!! So I ordered it off the net. And it came. And I set it up, got it running, and went in all full of beans to milk her with it. She kicked me so hard and fast I nearly landed in to the middle of next week. I didn’t even see the kick coming, she has ninja like reflexes the old girl. OK, so that plan was not going to work so easy. I kept hand milking her, but with the machine running nearby, to get her used to the noise. This went OK, for a few days, then I tried to put her back on the machine. More bruises. More handmilking with machine running. Rinse, repeat. More bruises. In the end, I just gave up and continued to hand milk twice a day. Machine sits in shed. As it probably will until we build a house out thre and I can realistically milk a cow or two. I did milk Dora and Hotblack with it just to see if I could, and once we sorted a problem with a seal, no worries, they did not mind at all.
I quite enjoy the hand milking, just not the regularity of it.
By now I am milking a few litres morning and night, feeding most of it to Elvis, and he had gotten a lot bigger, and fatter, and more enthusiastic about life. And his scours went away. Butterfly had started licking his head, as I kept finding him with damp patches and a cowlick, and I knew she had accepted him. One day I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye, and looked up to see Butters rubbing her head up and down on a tree, and Elvis doing the same on a stump next to it, copying her. They then pranced around, kicking and jumping, dancing in a circle with each other, playing like puppies.
I tried to put Elvis back on Butters, but even though they were now ‘friends’ she kept bludgeoning him off, and with only a few more weeks of milking to go before weaning him, I kept at it. Loving not having to buy milk too!
Butterfly however was not liking being held in the yards – despite an abundance of grass and carrots and oats for breakfast and tea, and started getting out. Jumping the fence. Granted, it’s not the the best fence around.
Pegged her back to once a day milking when Elvis was seven weeks old, and now we are down to every third day. Two days ago I let Elvis and Butters out of the yards, and Elvis did the funniest dance, and went straight off running down into the creek, but running in circles. He was so funny, this lumbering, leggy big baby, dancing around like a spring chicken. Tomorrow I have to go and bring them back in for another milking. I was keeping Elvis topped up on weaner pellets, but he prefers the hay and the grass. He still Moooooos for his milk though.
The other cows picked on him a bit initially, but they seem settled in now. I look forward to when he towers over them all and gives back a little bit of what he copped from Dora, the meany Alpha cow!
I will miss my cuddles and face rubs with Elvis but he has a new bovine family to take care of him.