It was late October and I had been watching Amber, our beautiful Highland cow, with eager anticipation for the arrival of her new calf, which I would name Ember (I was sure it would be a girl). I was so excited that I wrote a poem, which I don't believe I've ever done in my entire life, aside from some assignment in school years ago.
Autumn Embers fall
Weightless in the wind
Dancing flames of Amber & Red.
Rebels Yell; hear their call
From Higher Ground it will begin
A new reign of Truth is ahead.
What a happy coincidence
October 29 rolled around and today was the day. Amber had milk and had been showing other signs that were right on track with impending birth for a few days now. I kept a close watch out the window and was sure I'd see when the action started. I was working on the last blog post as a notification popped up on Facebook from Elm Hollow Highlands that their lovely cow, Nadia, had given birth to TWIN girls, which was a beautiful blessing and a farm first for them as well.
Sadness of loss
At some point between glances out the window, Amber had given birth to a sleeping baby girl calf. I found her that evening when I went out for evening checks at the barn. She was a perfectly formed, reddish colored, curly beauty, albeit a bit on the small side, I believe now that I've seen another newborn Highland calf. There was no sign that this sweet girl had ever opened her eyes. It was a soggy, rainy mess that day and Amber was in obvious distress, licking the baby, mooing (which she hadn't done since we got her several months ago), and circling. She had to be wondering why her baby didn't move and what she was supposed to do as a mama cow at this point.
This was my first experience with anything to do with the birth and death of a calf, but I assumed I should remove the calf to ensure predators wouldn't bother Amber or the other animals in the night. I tried to drag the calf away but Amber told me straight away that wasn't happening. She has big horns and weighs about half a ton, so I listen! However, I don't give up. I decided to get a scent blocker bag and maneuver the baby into it while keeping a close eye on a now wild-eyed mama cow. It worked and I ran, dragging this poor calf, crying to the barn. All I could manage to squeak out between hideous sobbing was "She's dead! Amber's baby is dead." The rest of the family was just as devastated. Soon my disappointment turned to concern for Amber. She was a baby-less mother. Her sole purpose in life had just been stripped from her, and I knew she didn't understand. She had already lost a young calf last year (pic below) due to unmanageable calf scours and dehydration, and I could feel her confusion and pain. I sent Elm Hollow Highlands (Nancy is the best!) a message and told her what happened. I asked if I should try to find an orphan calf to try to bond with and nurse, and that's when coincidence turned into something more.
Two lost souls
Nancy immediately said "I have one!" I was shocked. Beyond shocked, really. I hadn't seen her post anything about having an orphan calf. I knew Nadia had given birth to twins, but I thought all was well. That wasn't the case, however. Nadia had lost that loving feeling for one of her girls - Lucille. She had officially rejected the calf we now call Lucy and she was having to be put in a head catch to let the baby nurse. Obviously, this was tiring and stressful for everyone involved, and a bottle baby was quickly in the making. Without much more thought, we both agreed that everyone's best option was to act quickly to try to graft orphaned baby Lucy onto a grieving mama Amber. It was risky, and we knew there were no guarantees the graft would work, but we also knew the timing was perfect and everyone involved in this process had big hearts and lots of determination. We also knew that Amber was a good mother and very gentle, and if any cow would accept a baby not her own, it would be Amber.
The journey begins
The next morning it was a mad dash to get things ready for the attempted grafting of these two lost souls. I was obviously not prepared for this, but we worked quickly to throw together a safe space for introducing them and a safe and warm space for baby Lucy in case Amber also rejected her. I also milked Amber, in icy rain, not knowing we were under a tornado warning, for the first time (for me) to be able to carry her colostrum to baby Lucy when I picked her up. That would give us a head start on getting her to smell like Amber's calf, and of course, Lucy would be one hungry baby coo after her journey! Then the journey began. I started driving the almost 10-hour round trip drive to get Lucy and come back. Not far into my journey, I ran into downed trees from the storm that were blocking the road. I messaged Nancy at Elm Hollow and she said storms had come their way as well and they were without power. In a split decision, they decided to just drive in my direction and I'd drive in their direction and we'd meet somewhere in the middle, given all the obstacles being thrown in our way and the time element to get cow and calf together ASAP. And that's what we did! We met pretty much exactly in the middle, in a Burger King parking lot [insert uncomfortable laughter here], where baby Lucy was eager to get her bottle of Amber milk. I can't thank Nancy and Schuyler enough for their quick actions to make the grafting possibility an option. Baby Lucy rode, diaper clad, in the cab of the truck all the way back to Higher Ground and arrived around 8:30pm.
Upon arriving, I carried Lucy into the house (wasn't sure what else to do with her) to show her to hubby and have him help me in introducing two unrelated cows that we were determined would form a mother/baby bond. Just typing that sounds insane now at this point, but I suppose I'd been running on hopeful adrenaline for about 24hrs at that point. haha
I had previously rubbed a towel over Amber's lost calf to get her scent. I then rubbed that towel all over Lucy and also put a bit of the remaining colostrum in her bottle on her head, back and tail so hopefully she'd smell like Amber's calf. Here we go! I hauled Lucy in my arms to the barn where her cozy spot was ready for her and where I'd bring Amber in to meet Lucy for the first time.
Amber was in the big pasture so we had to go get her with a bucket of alfalfa. However, she was more interested in the smells on our hands, and again that wild look in her eye came on like a light switch had been flipped. Game on! The goal: make a bond and don't get hurt in the process. Challenge accepted! Amber was going nuts for the smell on us and we, although scared we trip in the dark pasture and get trampled, were super hopeful that she would immediately take to Lucy since she had the same smells on her now.
When inside the barn, Amber saw Lucy, sniffed her and looked at us like we were traitors. She was not amused. If I was to interpret what she was likely thinking, I'd say she went from hopeful disbelief that her calf could be where we were taking her to purely pissed off that we tricked her. However, a bucket of feed was at least some form of comfort for her wasted trip to the barn. She began eating and I slipped her halter on and tied her to a post so she couldn't swing her head around a make us humans on a stick. I decided Lucy was hungry and instead of trying to force anything at that moment that I'd just milk Amber again and feed it immediately to Lucy. That made the most sense given that Amber wasn't going to be fooled tonight. Lucy ate, Amber ate, we brought Lucy close and she sniffed Amber right before Amber kicked at her, and then we separated them - Lucy in the barn and Amber in the small barnyard area outside the barn - for the night.
Before getting Amber out, she did try to check out the feed bins and hubby and I were both in not-so-great positions between her, the wall and the feed, and I took a swipe to the face from one of her massive horns that knocked me silly for a few minutes. That was a first, kinda scary, and something that could've gone really bad. It was totally handler error, though, and Amber never did anything out of meanness.
They moo'ed back and fourth a bit that night and were at it again the next morning. Again, I decided to milk Amber first and feed hungry Lucy before attempting to get her to nurse. Again, Amber kicked at Lucy to stop her from trying to nurse, but she did pay more attention to her and was seemingly starting to be interested in her smell. We separated them the same way as the night before and they continue to moo back and fourth until I went out just after lunch time to do what I'd planned would be the same routine.
As I reached the barn I felt a change was in order. I felt like I had to stop trying to MAKE this happen and just LET it happen. I knew in order to do this (or NOT DO this), I'd need to pray for guidance, wisdom, peace, intuition, and for no animal or human to get hurt in the process of me letting go. I slipped into the barn and got Amber's alfalfa, barley, oat and sunflower mix together and put it in her spot, said a heart felt, tearful (yeah, ok, it was more like an ugly cry) prayer, and then opened the door. No halter, no tying, no guarding baby Lucy like a hawk. I just let them be. Amber ate, Lucy came over for a smell, then inched her way back to the dairy bar, and Amber stood there and let her nurse. She turned back to sniff Lucy as she nursed and gave a half-hearted, wimpy kick. I started talking to Amber and petting her like usual, rubbing her sides, and rubbing down her leg on the side Lucy was on. At any sign of a kick, I'd apply more pressure and tell her "No, this is your baby. It's ok." We did this until Amber finished her huge bucket of feed, and then Amber really started checking Lucy out. Smelling her all over, and skeptically allowing her to remain near. Then I decided a little fresh air could do everyone good, as Lucy hadn't been in the Alabama sunshine yet! I got Amber to come out of the barn and Lucy ran right behind her. As I shut the barn door, Lucy started running and playing and Amber started mooing to get her to settle down, I suppose. lol Then it was almost like Amber realized she was "mothering" this calf, but...why? Amber visibly took steps back and had a look of confusion again, disbelief, but HOPE, all at the same time. She watched as Lucy played. This went on for several minutes and then Amber changed. She starts running after Lucy and breathing her in deeply. She started licking her and nudging her to nurse. She was ecstatic! She was MOM to baby Lucy! That was HER BABY! And that moment was the start of Lucy and Amber's second chance together. They bonded in less than 24 hours and are still going strong today. Amber is back to her calm, yet protective self, and Lucy is the happiest little calf around.
Enjoy this picture gallery of all the fabulous Highlands mentioned above. Special thanks to
Just your average ex-medical scientist turned herb loving, natural living, homeschooling mom, wife, and homesteader who values common sense, real food, real people, primal instincts, and self-sufficiency.
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