Calf Adoption – A Surprising Success

LC (Large Cow)

By Liz Diaz

The harsh truth about milk is that it was made by a mother for a baby.  We take the baby cows away early in order to get the milk and in exchange offer care and food in other forms.

L.C. (Large Cow) has been bred 4 times, four years in a row, so that we may continue to have delicious, nutritious milk for our family.  While it is true that we separate momma from baby, we also make sure baby gets enough milk, fed to the calf via a bottle, two or three times a day.

But not this year.  This year L.C.’s calf would get adopted by L.C.’s daughter, who was due to calve around the same time as L.C.  If we could somehow convince Mireille (pronounced mee-ray) that she had given birth to 2 calves, then Mireille could serve as nursemaid and L.C.’s calf would have a bovine mama and get all the milk she wanted.  And we would get out of having to bottle feed, water, and otherwise take care of the young one which can be a tedious, daily task.

We figured it was worth a try, but we weren’t too hopeful.  I had read that it was

Mireille nursing her new calf, Kacow.

difficult to get a cow to adopt a calf that wasn’t her own.  Cows depend on their sense of smell to tell them a lot of things, including who their babies are—or are not.

But we had to try.  So when Mireille calved first, we froze the placenta.  When L.C. calved 10 days later, we pulled it out of the freezer to thaw.  We separated L.C.’s calf (named Coco) and (on the second day, after bottle feeding her colostrum for a day) we put her in the barn with Mireille’s calf (named KaCow).  Coco and KaCow spent about 8 hours together, with no mother, mixing smells, peeing on each other, and keeping each other company.  We can all tell you it wasn’t an easy 8 hours.  The calves were hungry and wanted their mommies.  Mothers were full of milk and wanted to feed their young.  The whole village could hear the incessant mooing.

Kacow and Coco

Finally, in the evening, we tied the placenta around Coco like a belt.  I rubbed the juices from the thawed placenta all over Coco—top to bottom—in hopes that she would smell like her big ½ sister (who is also her neice).

Then we brought Mireille into the barn, distracted her with some food, and reintroduced her to her “twins”.  There was definitely some confusion, but ultimately Mireille let Coco nurse!  We could hardly believe it.

Two more days of isolation and we let the calves into the field with their mother.  Again, we stood in disbelief as the two calves nursed with no real problems.

The true relief that it had worked came he next morning when Lee reported

Mireille nursing both calves

that Coco was nursing from Mireille while KaCow just laid contentedly on the ground next to them.  At that point, we could congratulate each other and the cows for a job well done.  As Lee says, everyone’s got a job on the farm, and Mireille is doing double duty.  We’re so proud.

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Diaz arrived as a work-exchange at Earthaven in the Spring of 2010, just in time to jump into Imani Farm, Village Terraces Neighborhood, and other exciting adventures. Her farm specialty is moody and unpredictable animals – of which she has many harrowing stories. She currently works for Useful Plants Nursery and takes care of Oakley Swiftcreek, her adopted nephew.

 

 

Doing the Forest Inventory, by Alice Henry

It’s a dance of sorts. It starts in a circle, holding hands. There’s a break, for talking. Then there are the reels through the woods, discovering the way the forest grows. It’s also a future legend that starts like this. Sustainable Forestry at Earthaven Ecovillage

Once upon a time Earthaven hired a forester, Shawn Swartz (who used to be a Full Member and live here with his family), to guide us towards a forest plan. The plan is designed to inform, instruct and guide us in making choices about how to (or not to) relate to the various forest species we live with.

The first step is to agree on priorities. What’s most important—protection, product, aesthetics, wild life or education? If we manage for protection, will we also get enough firewood? If we manage for product, can we also prioritize restoration? Or the health of one product over others? a footbridge through the sustainably managed forest at Earthaven

“Keep in mind,” Shawn advised, “no management—meaning the elimination of human intervention—is also a management strategy. Leaving a healthy stand alone might be the best choice, but letting the forest take care of itself can also mean letting nut-bearing hardwoods die off, while rhododendron and red maple take over.” We decided protection and product are equally “most important”; if we manage for product, we intend to do so in ways that maximize forest health.

To do a forest inventory, you have to literally take one. The idea is to get a “snapshot” of the forest, a picture of which species are doing well. How tall are the trees? How much timber is there? Are the stands of mixed age and species? What’s in the understory?

Autumn forest beauty as we took our forest inventory at EarthavenTo get a fair inventory of the species in our forest, we worked with samples: one “point” for every six acres. With 240 acres designated to remain forested, we had 40 points to march to. March? More like crawl and beat a way through the thickets! And a whole lot of up and down as well, from ridge to ridge, across slopes and gullies. We’d note the parameters of all trees within range of a point: diameter, height, species, regeneration on forest floor, snags, and presence or absence of invasive species. At one point there were sizable trees, the biggest a northern red oak, diameter 17.9 inches. The understory included pipcissiwa, magnolia, silverbell and cat briar.

And so it went—eleven species in all (chestnut oak, scarlet oak, northern red oak, maple, tulip poplar, sourwood, birch, pine, hemlock, locust and black gum in various groupings) plus thickets of rhododendron and/or mountain laurel. Diameters ranged from 1.2 to 38 inches. Except for a point where there were quite a few two-and three-trunk chestnut oaks (trees that grew together and became one tree at about breast height), Shawn said no doubt this place was logged about 80 years ago.

At the last point, Shawn did a site index, an index of productivity based on age and height. He had record sheets and knowledge of what to record and why. If a tree might have logs, he would ask someone to “get the logs of that tree Marie (or Darren or Gaspar) is on.” Someone would pace off the 66 feet and measure with a special tool called a Biltmore Stick. Sometimes an experienced eye was used to estimate logs, especially where it was impossible to sight the base or if the tree had kinks, bends and flaws. Thanks to a leading teacher, or a teaching leader, we learned by doing.