My Jersey bull calves aren’t really twins. They aren’t even related. But they are only a week apart in age and look so much alike I’ve always called them The Twins. They are just over five months old now and they are starting to chew up Moxie’s teats. It is time to wean them.
I bought Henry (heart-shaped facial marking, right) as a four-day-old near the end of July to help me empty Katika’s ruined udder. Katika had calved July 2, and for three weeks I had been struggling to milk her as usual. However, because of the udder damage, milking was taking two agonizing hours a day, and meanwhile my personal life was reeling in crisis. I was also half-crippled with knee pain after surgery. I needed an extra calf to lessen my chores.
The farm wife at the dairy told me that this calf’s grandsire was the well-known Jersey bull, Abner, and that they’d called his sire Abe. Abe, eh? I usually name my bulls after movie stars, so this calf became Henry, for Henry Fonda, who starred in Young Mr. Lincoln. (I was unaware of Spielberg’s movie on the horizon.)
Three days later, on July 28, Moxie calved shortly after 9 PM. This calf at birth was even taller than Henry, who was a week older. Henry Fonda’s best friend, also taller, was Jimmy Stewart. I named Moxie’s calf Stewart.
Moxie is a first-calf heifer. To my horror, on sitting down to milk her for the first time, I discovered that her rear teats were so short I could not milk them. Even my one-fingered attempts, as I milk sheep, barely extracted a thin dribble from her swollen bag. It looked like I might need to add two more hours to my daily milking chores. With all the other disasters going on in my life, I could not imagine this.
A dairy cow that is not milked out completely will get mastitis. Desperate, I was attempting to massage the milk out of those rear teats when suddenly it occurred to me — Henry!
A hungry calf will work for food. Henry was happy to empty those short back teats.
It was actually easier for him than nursing Katika’s very low udder — and had the considerable advantage that Moxie did not kick him in the head.
Moxie was tolerant and even vaguely interested in Henry but she knew he was not her calf. Stewart stayed close by her side, while Henry wandered off in the aimless, brainless way of baby calves who aren’t under maternal orders.
Moxie simply watched him go.
This was not much of an issue in the barn paddock, but in the big pasture it was a problem. After several search and rescues, tracking down lost Henry in the far reaches of the pasture and then limping and puffing to carry him painfully back to the herd, I changed my tactics.
I decided Henry and Stewart had to bond. I put Moxie in her own stall and kept the two boys together in the lambing jug next door, where she could watch them through the boards.
Every morning they nursed together.
After every breakfast I turned the threesome out.
It worked like a charm. Moxie is a low producer and the two calves emptied her udder nicely. Stewart and Henry became best friends, playing and frolicking all day long, and though Moxie saved her caressing licks for her own son, the little family stuck together everywhere.
But now the boys are big and their teeth are rough on Moxie’s teats.
This morning it is 23° F — almost fifty degrees warmer than yesterday! — and I will put plastic weaning rings in their noses.
I know all three will be unhappy.