April 13, 2017
Normally calving Highland cattle is a pretty sweet gig - you have to check regularly in case of calving difficulties, but those are pretty rare. Occasionally a calf might need a quick tutorial with nursing. Otherwise, just counting heads, tagging and castration (if necessary) - easy stuff.
Then along came Ernest. Early. Really early.
His dam gets fiercely protective with calving and for several weeks after. Highlands normally have a very strong maternal instinct, but she is over the top. Those hormones really take hold - so much so we've always said there is no point risking life or limb if her calf is ever in trouble. Until Ernest.
Augusta went into labour late afternoon on March 25, 2017. We kept an intermittent eye on her to make sure things were progressing normally - from a distance as not to worry her. From that distance everything looked good. The calf was born easily, alive and the weather was warm - so we let her be for a couple hours. Came back and the calf hadn't moved. Upon closer inspection: barely breathing. And oh so tiny.
So, we risked life and limb and managed to get the calf in a sled behind the quad. I drove as quick as I could the long way home and Grant ran a quarter mile home in the opposite direction. Poor girl didn't know who to chase and just stood there, confused.
He weighed only 35 pounds, no teeth, thin hair coat, very soft feet. First off was to get him into the warm garage and warmed up. We started with drying him vigorously with towels. An IM injection of Selon-E which is a vitamin E/selenium solution. Honey rubbed into the roof of his mouth (first course of action for unthrifty calves in this house - a trick passed down from my parents). He didn't have a suck response at all, so we fed him a litre of colostrum via an esophageal feeder. He warmed up fairly quickly and was able to maintain his temperature, which was a good sign. But, was still struggling with breathing. Over the course of the next few days we hit him full guns. A long-acting antibiotic to cover any possible infection. Metacam for any pain or inflammation. And dexamethasone, a corticosteroid, for lung development as research shows it can help stimulate surfactant production.
By the fourth morning he was getting up on his own and sucked back the bottle. So fixed up a small pen for him and put him in the sled and went to see if Augusta was still interested. Four days later - and she was as maternal as ever. Sometimes "super maternal" means crazy "witch" - sometimes it means "best cow ever". Often in the same sentence. He still wasn't strong enough to stand for long, so we milked her out and fed him with the bottle. After a couple more days and we got her in the chute and helped him get on - the little turkey did great.
Over the course of the next week we supplemented with a bottle, as he tired easily. As his stamina improved, he starting refusing any extra milk. So, we decided to let them out with the rest of the fold. Jumped the gun a bit there. We ended up bringing them back in, he just couldn't quite keep up and then lacked the energy to nurse.
Fast forward to this week. Ernest is living up to his name. They are back out with the cows - he's keeping up to his dam, playing with the other calves and walking up on all his feet properly most of the time. He's still a bit of an odd duck - and who knows how well he'll do - but for now we'll call him a win.