Our one-week-old heifer calves might be cute, but as any farmer who raises multiple calves knows, they can also be quite a handful. These two are a recent addition to the several calves already in the barn.
Feeding them needs to be done as efficiently as possible to have enough time for the rest of the animals. Bottle feeding can take hours. To use our time more efficiently, we feed the calves a different way. The day the calves are brought to the barn, we teach them to drink from a bucket. Because their initial instinct is to suck from an utter, the task is not for the faint of heart. It involves a little bit of wrestling, a little bit of slobber, a little bit of spilled milk, and a LOT of patience.
First, I pour a bucket about one-third full of warm milk. (The calves dump less this way.) Next, I lift it near the calf’s head and get the calf to suck my hand. I then carefully lower that hand into the milk bucket. The moment the calf’s mouth touches the milk, I quickly slip my hand away so that she drinks without it. In a perfect world, the job would go that smoothly and be done.
It’s not a perfect world. Some calves are tougher than others. Today, one of the calves caught on much slower than the other. The moment I brought her mouth down to the milk bucket, her instincts took over and she headbutted me, (in a very sensitive place), as if headbutting her mother’s udder to drop down milk. The only thing she managed to drop down, was the milk bucket, all. . . over. . . my. . . jeans! Patience and gentleness is key, and after another try, she finally caught on.
Over the years of teaching calves to drink, it seems they catch on quicker and quicker. Each time performing the task, I learn from them which tweaks work better and which don’t. The one who’s REALLY being taught is me.