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When in Doubt...

Anyone else feel like winter finally woke up, looked and the calendar, and said “I better get a move on it” last week?  We have had a fairly mild winter with next to no snow, and with Spring a week away, we get the most significant accumulation of snow we’ve had all year last Monday night/Tuesday.  Granted, it was still not a huge amount, definitely less than we’ve seen in previous years, but it came with cold temperatures and some pretty nasty wind.  And of course, for many cattlemen, it came right as cows are calving.  Many producers will hold off calving in January and February, and aim instead for the end of February into March to try to avoid some of the really bad winter weather, and this storm just proved that strategy doesn’t always work.  In fact, I know of two situations where a calf was born early Tuesday morning…
Calf A was born Tuesday morning about mid-morning.  The owner had checked on the cow before leaving to go to work, and she was not showing signs of calving yet, although her due date was close.  The owner receives a phone call a little later from a family member letting him know that the cow had calved.  The owner informs the family member that he will be there to check on the calf as soon as he finishes up a few pressing things at work.  Before the owner can return to check on the calf, the family member goes back out to check on it, and decides that it is too cold, so he calls a couple of neighbors to come help.  They put the cow in a nearby barn, and then take the calf to the neighbor’s shop to warm it up.  On the way to the shop, they pass the owner, who is headed home to check on the calf, and let him know what has happened and what they are doing.  They take the calf to the shop, warm him up, and then return him to his momma, leaving them both in the barn so they have time to re-bond.  (They even sent before and after pictures to the owner).  Cow and calf at both doing fine.

There are times when a calf does need to be brought in and warmed up before being returned to its mother.  This is not Calf A, but a similar situation.
Calf B was born sometime late Monday night/early Tuesday morning.  He and his mom were a part of a group of cows being kept on rented land, meaning that the owner/caretaker of these cows did not live on the farm, but checked on them several times daily, especially during calving season.  This calf was born and momma cleaned him off, and then she went to get some food and water.  This is fairly typical behavior for cows, they will “hide” their calf in a safe area and will go to take care of their needs before coming back to check on the calf.  A neighbor spotted the calf laying by itself, and was concerned for it because of how cold it was.  The neighbor decided to go into the field and remove the calf from the field to help it warm up.  After the calf had been removed, he then began trying to contact people to find out who owned the calf.  He ended up taking it to a local humane shelter, and the calf was finally reunited with its mother.  However, the mother did not want to take the calf back at first, because he did not smell like her calf anymore.  The owners had to put quite a bit of time and effort into working with the cow and calf to get them to re-bond.  Did the neighbor have good intentions in helping the calf?  Yes.  Was the neighbor trying to steal the calf?  No.  Did the neighbor do the right thing?  No.  Sound harsh?  Maybe. 
Here is the difference in these two situations.  Calf A was found and cared for by people who knew the owner, and who were in contact with them during the process.  Calf B was removed from the field by a person who did not know the owner, and was not familiar with cattle.  This could have been a problem in several different ways.  First, the person removing the calf could have gotten hurt if the mom had come back and felt like her calf was threatened.  Cows are animals, and can be unpredictable, especially right after calving.  It is never a good idea to go into an unfamiliar field, or a field with animals that you do not know without someone who is familiar with the situation.  Removing the calf from the field and taking it a different place also caused issues with the bonding between the calf and the mother when the calf was finally returned to the cow.  This can cause a huge problem, because in some situations the cow may completely refuse to take the calf back, leading to the need to bottle feed the calf, and the potential for an udder infection (mastitis) in the cow because she is not being nursed.  Thankfully in this situation the cow did finally accept the calf, but the additional stress on both cow and calf can have long term, unintended consequences.

All of that being said, both sides of the situation for Calf B could have done things differently.  More and more farmers are renting or leasing land, rather than owning it outright.  Because of this, many times the owner or caretaker of the cattle does not live on the same farm where cattle are being kept.  In these situations, it is a good idea for farmers to make sure that neighbors who live close to these farms know who the farmers are, and how to reach them.  A quick stop for the farmers to introduce themselves, share their contact information, and ask the neighbor to let them know if they see anything that may be of concern can prevent a lot of miscommunication and potential problems.  In the case of the neighbor, going into the field and removing the calf, however well-intentioned it may have been, was not the correct way to handle the situation.  If he did not think that he could find the owner in time, or if he felt like the calf was in serious danger, a better option would have been to call the local animal control office.  Animal control, especially in areas that have a significant portion of livestock farms, generally have a good idea of who the animals belong to, and if not have a network of contacts to find out.  Also, they are trained in how to properly care for different types of animals, and have the authority to do so. 
With less and less people directly involved with agriculture, we all have a responsibility to make sure that we are aware of situations that may arise, and how they should be handled.  If you have any doubt it is better to ask before acting for the safety of both animals and people.
Monday, March 20, 2017
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