Twin beef calves are trouble. Maybe some of you have a breed of cattle that regularly takes care of twins without human intervention, but my cattle do not. Invariably, a cow will claim one calf and forget about the other one.
Fall-calving started about the middle of August. These two twin heifers were born one evening. Since they were both wet and hadn’t nursed yet, I decided to wait and see if the mother would claim both calves, or at least allow both calves to nurse once to receive the valuable first milk called colostrum.
Colostrum contains antibodies from the cow which provide passive immunity to diseases until the calf begins to develop its own immunity. Antibodies are able to pass through the calf’s stomach because it is porous. A calf’s ability to absorb colostrum through its stomach wall diminishes rapidly, and is pretty much done within 24 hours.
The next morning I checked and found the cow had taken one calf and left the other. So I took the abandoned calf home and gave it a bottle of Colostrx. This is a purchased product which is a substitute for the mother’s colostrum. That night I gave the calf a bottle of milk replacer.
The next day I checked the cattle again and was surprised to see the other twin had not nursed. The mother of the twin had large teats, but not excessively large, perhaps the twins had a difficult birth and weren’t quite bright enough to find a teat. I saw that the calf was hungry and trying to find a teat, but I could tell that none of the teats had been nursed.
I called my Dad to come and help me take the calf out of the pasture. I anticipated a more difficult time, because the cow was very attentive to this twin, unlike the twin she had abandoned. It was a good thing I called him because after picking up the calf and carrying it away on the ATV, the cow followed close behind and I needed his help to get out of the gate and keep the cow in.
I gave the second twin a bottle of milk replacer. I didn’t bother with Colostrx because the calf was 36 hours old. Now I had two bottle calves, and wasn’t looking forward to the morning and evening chores of feeding two calves.
I thought about the way the cow followed me on the ATV. There isn’t any cattle-handling facilities in the rented pasture, but there is a round horse pen. I thought that just maybe, I could lure the cow into the horse pen. I knew there would be no way to chase her in, with acres of wide-open spaces.
I set up a small hazing fence near the horse pen with some panels that were nearby. I opened the small gate to the horse pen and then drove my ATV out to the cow. When she saw me she began to follow me. As she started to slow down, I made my noise which sounds like a calf mooing and she picked back up. I stopped the ATV a ways away from the gate and got off and walked into the horse pen. I bent over in the weeds like I was doing something with a calf and made the mooing noise. The cow followed right through the small gate. I jumped up and shut the gate behind her.
I called my Dad and he brought my truck and trailer and we hauled her to his corral. The next morning we put her in the catch chute to restrain her, and started the slow process of teaching the calves to nurse an udder. The cow kicked a little, which made our job more difficult, but we got both calves to nurse enough.
We did this process maybe three more times, then we transitioned to a small pen, with one person keeping the cow’s attention, while the other person maneuvered the calves towards the cow’s udder. We did this process three or four times, morning and night, and now they’re nursing on their own and she’s claiming both calves as her own.
We will still keep them in the corral for a couple of weeks and then transition to a pasture away from the other cattle after that, to ensure she doesn’t lose one of the calves. As the calves become stronger, they will also make sure they don’t get lost. Oftentimes the twins will stick together as the mom goes off to graze.
I’m thinking I’m going to have to stop calving in the rented pasture. It’s impossible to check them if they want to hide in the thick woods. And there isn’t any handling facilities if there is a problem.
I’ve been pushing my luck for too long. If I prepare for trouble, I’ll probably have very little. If I continue to not prepare, I feel I’m due some bad luck.