Calf Adoption – A Surprising Success by Liz Diaz
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
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.
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
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.