Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sad loss

I heard a lot of bellowing coming from down in our woods this evening. That often indicates a cow jumped a fence or something is otherwise amiss. I decided to investigate.

Sadly, I saw this:

One of our heifers gave birth some time today and the calf died. He -- for it was a little bull calf -- was already cold and stiff when we found him. We have no idea why he didn't make it. He didn't have any obvious birth defects and there were no indications of trauma.

This is Shadow, the mother. She's young, and this is her first calf. Could there have been birthing difficulties? Could she have rejected him? We weren't home this afternoon, so we simply don't know. At any rate, Shadow is understandably distressed.

You know, we've raised cattle since 1999, and this is the first calf we've ever lost. The first.

Don and I double-bagged the poor baby and put him in the back of the truck. We'll take him to the dump tomorrow. We can't leave him out in the woods since there's too much of a chance a carnivore may be attracted.



  1. Patrice,


    My grandfather had a 2800 acre cattle ranch (he died when I was three) My mother told me a story where he tore out the back seat of a brand new "Studebaker car" to get a sick calf to a vet. My grandmother was furious but his cattle were his life. I understand how you feel from all the stories my mother told me about my grandfather and the ranch.

  2. Poor Sparky, I know animals do experience grief. Hopefully she will bounce back soon.

  3. That is sad. I had a chick die the other day. It was the first chick I have had die out of two batches. I am puzzled as you are as to what happened to my chick. Of course, yours is a much larger lost investment. I hate to see an animal mourn for its lost baby.

  4. Sorry to read of your friend had the opposite problem-----heifer kidded a bull calf, but SHE never stood up again. Pinched nerve in her back they believe. I have been his foster mama now for almost 3 months. He loves me as his MAMA and it's gonna break my heart when I am done weaning him. :o( It's the tough part of raising livestock, for sure. Hope your heifer recovers quickly.

  5. With our cattle we have found that the mom's are confused with their first calf. They act like they are scared of it. The calves are either lucky and find the milk, but a lot of times the mom wants to keep her eyes on it. She doesn't understand why it wants to go "back there." So yes, we have a lot of "first time" moms lose calves. But, they usually do better the second time. Sorry your little one didn't make it.

  6. Expensive loss. Loss of a calf (that are high dollar) and now an open cow to feed for a year. First calf heifers need a close watch, like up in the barn under your nose ready to help kind of watch. Your term "raising cattle" should really read have a couple of cows. You don't even know the difference between a hog wire panel and powder river panels! May sound snarky but sometimes truth sounds that way. Was this first calf heifer on the fresh green grass? If so this could be a possible reason. Or maybe the calf was to big for such a small heifer?

    1. Some folks don't do things the same way you do Anonymous. That's not wrong, just different.

      I know of large and successful ranches that will not assist a calving, period. They believe that natural selection will quickly adjust the herd to only cows that can birth on their own. They claim the first years are difficult, but after a couple of generations it really pays off. Careful selection of heifer and "heiferett" bulls sure helps, too.

      I also know ranchers that have entire barns set aside to house heifers and problem cows at calving time. They fuss and pamper over the cows all season. They also seem successful.

      To each their own. Both have to live with the rewards / penalties of the decision. No need to throw stones.

    2. People with their nose high in the air usually fall on their face at some point.

      If you are a regular reader, you know that the Lewis's have a small herd operation, have their own bull and raise dairy and beef cattle. Numbers do not matter. Your attitude does.


  7. We have composted dead cattle successfully. Several feet of straw is placed over the animal to minimize smell and aid with the breakdown of the carcass. After the carcass has broken down, the straw can be turned like regular garden compost. We have a dog and there are many coyotes in the area but have not had a problem with them when we use this method.

  8. In my experience calving out heifers, sometimes they lack the strength to get the calf out of the canal fast enough. They will tire and take a break and the calf ends up suffocating.

    I have also seen them unsure of how to "clean up" the calf and not get all of the membrane off of the calf's nose and suffocate them that way.

    Don't be to hard on yourself. I have worked on heifer calving crews where we had someone in the herd 24 hrs and day 7 days a week, kept the cattle in small traps close by and pulled laboring heifers into a dry lot, etc. We still lost some calves (and a few heifers to boot). It just happens. Babies die in hospitals, too.

  9. I grew up on a small dairy farm (100 cows). We normally bred first year Holstein heifers to a full or half jersey cross bull (to reduce calf size). This was a lot easier on the first time mom. We also usually put them in a calving pen (or shed depending on time of year), in case we had to help pull (as a 10 year old kid I can remember tying rope to emerging calf feet and helping to pull the baby out). Even if you do all that, it seemed as if maybe 1 in 100-150 were born dead. (Either we didn't help quick enough or a stillbirth). In the future you may want to have a birthing pen so you can keep a closer watch. Your heifer looks to be smallish, so it may have been a hard birth. What's funny, is I remember some of the smaller dairy cows having a really easy time of it and some of the huge dairy cows almost dying from giving birth. They are like humans in that respect (some having a much easier time of it than others). Death of the calf DOES just happen, but it does help to keep a close eye on them, if you know your due date and keep an eye on their privates to see how close they are to birthing. (You should see swelling of the genitals in the last 24 hours before the birth in most cases to help clue you in). Like everything in life, it's a learning experience.