Mini, the extremely small calf, has moved into the ell. This is a new high — perhaps extreme is the better word — in animal management for McClary Hill Farm. Sheep have been bottle fed and diapered and moved into the house for ease of care, but Mini is the first calf to make the move. It is temporary… extremely temporary.
Let me bring you up to speed on Mini’s march into life.
On Mini’s birthday she had to be carried into the barn and Teeny (Mom) was stanchioned with Mini in front of her. Mom talked and licked, but Mini, the definition of a dazed newborn, wasn’t strong enough to do much other than lay in her bed of hay. Mom and Mini spent the night together in this arrangement. At her 10PM and 2AM feedings, Mini had a rattle in her breathing, was unable to stand and took only a small amount of the colostrum that we had milked from her mother. I didn’t hold much hope for her survival.
On Day 2 my daughter took over Mini-care and got her to stand and even wobble-walk in the alley for a bit. With some assistive massaging and rubbing, Mini demonstrated that she could take milk inputs and create some outputs. This was all very good news. At her late night feeding Mini made many efforts at standing up, but only succeeded in elevating her back end and kneeling on her front legs. She couldn’t quite manage to get her front legs under her without assistance. Things were looking better. I even hazarded a prediction that Mini would get up and walk around unassisted on the next day.
Day 3 of Mini’s existence began strong. She ate well and was able to walk better although she still needed help getting up. At two feedings during the morning Mini looked stronger and stronger.
At 2:45 PM I drove into Concord to pick my daughter up from a band rehearsal (here’s a link to a Farmers’ Market performance, The Cabbageheads). When we got home I found Mini sprawled in a puddle of water dribbled from the calf area. She had managed to shimmy herself around the bales of hay that I had used in an effort to contain her. She was cold, wet and limp. I hustled back to the house, warmed up some milk, grabbed some towels and a hairdryer and went to work. Mini responded well to the ministrations and drank a full bottle of the warmed milk. But it was now apparent that she was going to need a more effective containment strategy.
I dug out the dog crate and moved Mini into the ell of the house. Selfishly I thought this would make the 2 AM feeding easier.
At the 2AM feeding Mini bleated with a full and clear throat (hear a Mini-moo here), she drank a full bottle, was warm and dry and stood up from the laying down position, twice, without my assistance. More good signs.
I have spent many hours caring for other animals that were born with problems. Most notable was Mira, a lamb that was born with some serious defects that her Mom recognized right away. Unwilling to invest energy in an obviously broken lamb, Mom left the lamb for dead in the paddock. A number of interventions that also included towels, a hairdryer and a brief stint in the oven had resurrected the little sheep. Mira made it for a couple of happy months, but ultimately she failed to make the transition to grown up sheep status and the requisite eating of grass. She was a really spunky little animal. You can take a look at her in this video, Mira’s Morning Romp.
Based on this and other experiences with weak or broken little animals, I don’t get my hopes too high. In most farm settings, the costs in time and money would be too great to support the effort to save these animals. There is also a pretty strong argument that a weak calf’s genetics shouldn’t be saved. But a pure-bred Jersey heifer calf and a member of the small cohort of third generation calves born here on the farm warrants the worry and the loss of a bit of sleep.
If Mini can make the effort to get up and keep going, I can do the same. I’ll keep you posted on her progress.