I’ve been waiting and waiting for a calf to raise as next year’s breeding bull. Naturally in the midst of everything else going on, the dairy wife, Melissa, called to say a bull calf had finally arrived. The next morning I drove the hour to pick him up. Given the dearth of bull calves this year, I had to outbid another interested party — so he cost me $20 rather than the usual $10. Still a bargain that’s hard to beat.
He’s a cutie. Meet little John Wayne.
I call him Duke. (I mentioned “Dukie” once and Lucy made a face — “What a terrible name!” I was puzzled until she explained to me that “dukie” was slang for excrement. DH confirmed this. My goodness. I must be very sheltered if my twelve-year-old has to lay out the facts for me. However, it’s true that I did believe “dumb-ass” was an expression unique to my friend Allen, as I’d never heard it before.) In any event, I’ll endeavor to avoid the diminutive.
Lucy thinks Duke is the cutest calf we’ve ever had, given his big splashes of white. He is striking. Melissa assured me that he is 100% Jersey, but I have my doubts. Duke’s eyes have the white around the iris that suggests Holstein somewhere in his background. Here he is, looking up fearfully at Birch in the next stall.
Lucy’s horse Birch hates calves. Though he doesn’t hurt them, they irritate him just by existing. He laces back his ears and bares his teeth. He is the grouchy Mr. Wilson to their Dennis the Menace. Duke looks properly alarmed.
Katika is not much friendlier but Duke hasn’t realized this yet. I put him on her to nurse while she’s in her stanchion eating her grain. Years ago even grain couldn’t distract Katika from kicking foster calves off her bag, but she’s mellowed with age. She snorts and rolls her eyes to look at him, shifts distractedly, and then sighs and returns to eating. I know she’s finished breakfast when she winds up that hind leg to clock him in the head. That’s my signal to pull him away.
I’m going to have to wean Rocky, Katika’s own calf, but there’s so much going on right now I may wait a few days. Rocky is almost six months old and could easily be weaned (dairies often wean at four to six weeks).
I was amused to watch Rocky when I turned him and Katika out the first morning after the new calf’s arrival. Rocky immediately shoved his big head under his mother to nurse and then recoiled. He sniffed at her bag suspiciously. One could almost see the thought bubble: “Somebody’s been nursing on my teat!” He backed away and ran around to the other side. He sniffed. The same! Outrage and confusion were written across his face. It was five minutes before he finally took a teat in his mouth and settled down to eat.
Duke is my eighth calf but I never tire of their wide-eyed, unsteady tottering on long legs, the questing mouths searching for milk in all the wrong places, the funny little skips and hops to express their happiness when their bellies are full.