Yesterday morning I put a weaning ring in the nose of my bull calf, Henry (heart-shaped facial blaze, above), and my steer calf, Stewart (lightning-bolt facial blaze, below).
A weaning ring works on the principle of a clip-on earring. The snub ends fit into the indentations of the calf’s nostrils and the weaner simply hangs from the nose. It does not hurt the calf. After a few minutes of snorting at the unfamiliarity and flipping the weaner up and down with a toss of the head, most calves ignore it.
However, see the wicked spikes? Those are designed to poke the cow’s tender udder and cause her to jump away from the calf, not allowing him to nurse. The design of the weaner, falling over the nose, is also intended to prevent the calf from sucking a teat into his mouth.
That was the plan.
Unfortunately, it turns out that Moxie is even more of a Martyr Mother than my cow Katika.
She stood like St. Sebastian (shot full of arrows) as the boys poked her with the sharp weaning spikes, merely shifting her feet a little and wincing. She was so obviously in a trance of patience that Dorrie, Katika’s heifer calf, ran in for a quick snack, too.
I do not know how the boys were able to suckle with the weaners on. I do know that in five months of nursing “twins,” Moxie’s teats have lengthened, while her bag remains high and tight. Still, I was baffled and frustrated to see both Henry and Stewart raise their heads to reveal muzzles (and weaning rings!) dripping with white milk slobber.
This is a problem on two counts. One, I’m trying to wean the twins because they are cutting Moxie’s teats with their teeth. Two, on Thursday I had picked up a two-week-old bull calf from the local dairy to foster onto Moxie in the twins’ stead. Following the theme of tall, skinny leading men (Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart), I named him Gary Cooper.
Moxie seems perplexed by and unsure of this development, but as long as she is eating her grain in the stanchion, she pays little attention to nursing activity at her hind end. Cooper had happily filled his belly while she ate her breakfast before being turned out.
But if the twins continue to work around the weaning rings, I am going to have to think hard to come up with a way to protect Moxie’s teats and manage an evening feed for Cooper. Keeping the older calves away from Moxie in the daytime is impossible in the winter snow.
Most things around the barn are tougher in winter. Yesterday my morning chores took two and a half hours. While I cleaned stalls and broke ice out of water buckets, the wind came up, pounding the western side of the barn and tearing the temporary Tyvek covering from the window holes in the addition. I fought my way through the thigh-deep drifts with a staple gun and re-fastened the whipping plastic.
By that point only Moxie was braving the wind and stinging snow.
One by one the big calves ventured out to re-join her.
But Birch, the sheep, and the geese remained prudently under cover in the run-in shelter.
As I tramped back and forth to empty my muck bucket, I was happy to find the little Horned Lark still safe at my manure pile.