Fluttering Eyelashes

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

Rearing young cattle

Submitted: July 12, 2018

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Submitted: July 12, 2018



Eyelash Fluttering


A dairy cow on good pasture can produce as much as twenty eight litres of milk in a day, while a beef breed might produce four or five. Now to the average Joe or Jessica Blow, they’re ho-hum figures and of little importance, but to a young fella like I was, trying to raise a few bob to buy wall lining of the house I was building, those figures had significance. I used to raise cattle, and sell them off at about eighteen months, for projects my wages couldn’t quite stretch to.

House cows were going out of fashion for two basic reasons; firstly, people no longer had time to hand milk a cow night and morning, which is another way of saying they were too lazy. The other reason was down to health regulations. I had a handle on it because my dad was the first person to sell pasteurised milk in the city, later the government made it mandatory because of the fight against tuberculosis. Before the new law, he still sold raw milk, which I preferred and when the new law came in, I weaned myself. So if you had a house cow, TB testing and the drudgery of heating milk, was too much bother, so it was easier to have bottled milk delivered to the gate, or pick it up at the supermarket.

Ex-house cows began to turn up at the saleyards on their final trip to the abattoir, but I delayed the final trip for a few because I bought them to become nurse cows. I didn’t really care about the breeds, so long as they were quiet and had been hand milked. Most were in milk when I bought them, but for others I had to organise a bull. The sex life of cattle? Maybe I’ll go there another time. I had to act fairly quickly once the cow arrived. A swollen udder is a painful thing (I think) and mastitis might result. So until I managed to source a bobby calf or two, I had to hand milk them.

Bobby calves? Well dairy farmers put their cows, to the bull, or use artificial insemination, with the aim of harvesting the milk. Back in the day, the freezing works used to pay a shilling for the unwanted calf. Colloquially a shilling was a bob. So unless the calf was required back in the herd, or somebody bought it to fatten, a bobby calf’s life was short. I used to buy in bobby calves and put them onto nurse cows to rear up as their own.

A house cow that has been hand milked will usually take a day old bobby calf quite easily and some have reared as many as three at a time. There are tricks to it and not all nurse cows take the calves easily. I have even had some cows that reared one set of three and then another in the one season. I found it easier to buy one bobby calf at a time because even with quiet cows, it takes a little time for them to accept each other.

There’s a rigmarole in getting the calf to suck because its natural instinct has been interrupted, especially in its first few days, which is why I kept the calves in shelter but allowed the nurse cow to graze to manufacture milk. The process only took about a week, after which time, cow and calf were turned out into the paddock, but some cows were cunning and unless I watched over them for a further week, they would try to abandon the calf. Once the calf was strong enough, they insisted on being fed. It was a busy time for me during the calving season, because some of my cows may have needed birthing assistance, and with the mothering up. Meantime it was full-on planting season on the forest.

Daily I passed through Lindsay’s property on my way to the planting site, he lived in the same homestead as old Bert if you remember the story Cassius. Anyway… Lindsay was a full-time cattle breeder and sheep farmer, he also used nurse cows and bought in calves. He had a different system. He used dog collars joined together by a piece of chain about eighteen inches long. One collar was put on the cow’s natural calf and the other on a foster calf. He insisted that it worked super-well and to prove it, he loaned me a set of collars and chain. I didn’t want to be squeamish, but I thought the natural calf would have some dominance over the foster, but anyway, I thought I’d give it a go.

The collars and chain sat around until a heifer I had kept for breeding birthed her calf. Heifers can be a bit contrary, but this one, even though she wasn’t hand reared, always behaved and was approachable. After she calved I bought a bobby calf and drove her and her calf up to the shed. She didn’t mind me chaining both calves together, but when she sniffed her foster calf, all hell broke loose! She bellowed and attacked both calves, raking them with her horns! Neither calf was safe! She was mad with death was on her mind! She was for too strong for me tip over so I tried to drive her off the calves by whacking her on her rump with a shovel, the only implement handy! It made not a hoot of difference, but I had to act quickly!

There was a stick of two inch by two inch macrocarpa leaning against the shed wall, which I grabbed and gave her a swift crack between her horns. The stick broke! Down she went like a sack of spuds! She lay there on her back, legs straight up in the air! I didn’t check her, I undid the dog collars and biffed them over the fence. I thought the heifer was dead, because she lay there like an upside-down statue! Suddenly she fluttered her eyelashes! Life! I separated the calves, rolled her on her side and allowed her to get up on her own and to mother her calf. They were ok.

I put the bobby calf on another old nurse cow, and all went well, but this nurse mustn’t have had quite enough milk, so within a fortnight, that stubborn little bobby calf, now strong, found the best place for a meal. The back teats of the blimmin’ heifer! Whenever her own calf was sucking, the bobby calf took its chance! The new mum turned to look behind, so she knew what was going on and didn’t mind a bit!

Animals can be unpredictable, but that’s what makes them so interesting.

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