A little perspective on raising bottle calves.
Story and photos by Kelli Neubert
Sometimes I feel as though I’m a glutton for punishment.
And no, I’m not talking about my monthly feed costs…or my vet bills…or the fact that I spend the majority of my day trying to persuade cattle into being in the right places and having the proper reactions for my husband and his 2-year-old cutting horse prospects.
No, the punishment that I’m referencing is a side task that is somewhat removed from my horse job. Something to pass that extra time I happen upon during early sleepless mornings and dusky Texas evenings.
I have stumbled across the avocation of raising bottle calves.
For those of you who have raised any sort of animal on the bottle, you can probably relate to my woes. For those of you who have yet to experience such a thing (but have considered it!), here is a little perspective.
Bottle calves are motherless at no fault of their own. Most of the time they are a product of a dairy. A cow must have a calf annually in order to produce milk. However, once her calf is born and stable, the cow must go back to work and the calf is raised on a bottle with milk replacer. Sometimes beef calves become orphans due to accident or death to the mother cow.
My days begin with a chorus of needy, hungry bawling, and every night I close my eyes hoping that nothing is developing a fever. My tack room is now a smattering of medicine, bottles, milk replacer, electrolytes, thermometers, fans, fly spray and heat lamps. I fear that it’s only a matter of time before my cow vet starts hitting the “ignore” button on his phone, for I text calf questions to him just about every other day. I have five stars near my username/handle on online cattle forums. My jeans are dark, stiff and crunchy – not from starch and cleaning – but from calf slobber and milk stains. I can’t leave. I can’t hide. My ever-growing herd of orphan stock is taking over.
Bottle calves often start out as weak little creatures. Every time I come home with a new baby bovine, a piece of my heart and soul goes into caring for and nurturing the little creature. I’ve made myself a rule to never name my calves. That’s right. Names are too personal. Preserve your emotional self and prepare to lose one to pneumonia or scours once in awhile. Keeping them nameless is just the sensible thing to do.
So why do I continue down the bottle calf road? Why do I put myself through this agony time and time again? It’s simple. The wins and the triumphs are well worth it (and the profit is nice, too!) To see a calf, void of a natural bovine mother, bouncing around and kicking his awkward little hocks up in the air because he is healthy and happy to see his human, well, the feeling is almost unmatched. I love to walk down to the barn and hear their little voices greet me before they can even see me. I love to see their little growing spirits as they sample hay for the first time and gingerly nibble grain. And when they are mature enough to go to their next chapter in life (whatever that may be), I’m happy to feel a sense of accomplishment.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go and tend to Chili, Curly, Bubbles, Socks, Spanky and Murray. —excuse me, I mean, my calves. I wouldn’t dream of naming them. Because as you know, I would never let myself get too attached.