Hazel, willow, beef and storytelling from Bedfordshire


Weaning - calves miss their mums

Weaning - calves miss their mums

It’s still very dry although we did have a drop of rain over Thursday and Friday nights which produced some puddles; something of a novelty. The Environment Agency have started to put out drought warnings. All worrying, but we just carry on and assume that things will adjust.

In 2010, we brought the herd indoors during the last week of October, which was earlier by perhaps a fortnight than we would have liked. This year, the ground is still dry enough for us to keep them out for longer on 4 December. This is great in some ways as we have saved a plenty of straw for bedding and feeding has been supplemented by the animals’ ability to find food in the fields even in November.

However, on Thursday we relented and brought them in. Our decision prompted by a need to wean the calves and that’s easier and we think, less stressful inside. In the barn we can separate cows from calves with steel hurdles. That way, they are able to maintain nose contact but can’t suckle. Otherwise, outside we have to separate them by some distance and distress (and noise) levels seem to be greater. A couple of years ago we weaned outside and had a call later the same evening from a neighbour reporting calves in the road. We depended on friendly and helpful people to help round our babies up and get them back to where they should be. On another occasion, the cows swam the river to reach their calves. The maternal instinct is indeed strong.

Inside the barn on Friday morning, 24 hours on, calves are missing a milky breakfast and mooing rather pathetically. They would happily suckle until the next calves appear in the spring, when their mums would eject them very quickly. However, some of the cows are looking in need of a rest from milk production. The calves are big and very demanding. They need to get the hang of eating hay and straw and we need to feed cows more to keep them in tip-top health so that they can produce fine strong calves next April.

We grit our teeth and carry on. Our neighbours, long-suffering and mostly very understanding, close windows, reach for the cotton wool or sleeping pills and get through a couple of nights disturbed by pathetic calves and disturbed cows. It doesn’t help matters that we live at the other end of the village, out of ear-shot.

We are now out of the worst of it. Calves are waiting for hay in the morning rather than looking to mums for breakfast. Just twelve or sixteen weeks of wet and cold to get through before the herd can once again get back to that lush green grass.

If you’ve been kept awake by our cattle – sorry!

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