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Mr. Devon Isn’t Like Other Calves

September 3, 2023

Mr. Devon, pictured here with summer camper Cameron, is our only calf who refuses to be weaned. This is the first time I’ve seen a calf reject solid food, but I wonder if human mothers have had this experience with their babies. Suggestions anyone?


Not too long ago, we were weaning 12 calves at once. Seven had been born here on Miles Smith Farm, and five more were purchased so we’d have plenty for our summer campers to train. So, twice a day, farm helper Diane and I took the temperature of each calf, checked them for illness, and administered meds if necessary. And that was just the medical part.

They had never encountered humans up close and were in flight mode whenever I approached. When I put a halter on Titan, a Belted Galloway, he leaped, pulled, then leaped, and pulled some more. (A Belted Galloway is black with a white band around its middle.) When Scottish Highland Owen B felt the pressure of the halter, he threw himself down, just like a tot having a temper tantrum. If Owen had hands, he would have beaten them on the ground.

It’s a good thing calves are lazy. Throwing a tantrum takes energy, and after a few days of fighting, most of the calves decided to participate. A feisty Belted Galloway named Claudette finally stood still when I put her halter on. She let me take her temperature, and, most importantly, she started to eat grain, following her mother’s good example. Calves mimic Mom, and all had learned from Mom that hay is good to eat. Now that each calf no longer had access to Mom’s milk, they all switched to eating calf feed with a 12% protein content without complaint—all except for Mr. Devon.

The other calves are all Scottish Highlands or Belted Galloways. Mr. Devon is a rare breed called Devon. I wanted a pair of Devon calves to train as working steers, but I could only find one. I bought him, hoping I could find another steer to pair later with him. Mr. Devon, taken from his mom at birth, had never learned social skills from her, and it showed.

Calves usually bond with each other, but Mr. Devon was not interested in his peers; he only wanted to suck human fingers and follow every human he saw – especially when it was time for his twice-daily bottle of milk replacer. He made a show of nibbling his grain but, unlike the other weanlings, didn’t take to eating solid food. He lost weight and developed extreme scours -- a form of diarrhea that can be fatal.

We tried everything to cure him, including dosing him with Corid, Kaolin Pectin, Agri-Tonics, electrolytes, and rumen fluid from a dairy cow. Then we returned to bottle-feeding him with a medicated milk replacer and put him with a recently weaned Highland heifer named Courtney Love. She’s half his age but bigger than him. When I last checked, Courtney was sniffing Mr. Devon in a friendly way.

He’s doing better now. Is it the milk replacer or the company of his new girlfriend? Calves, like children, need more than just food to thrive. For a while, I thought buying Mr. Devon might have been a mistake, but we’re making progress, and if Courtney convinces him to eat grain and grass, we can close his personnel file and move on.
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Carole is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm at Loudon, N.H., where she raises beef and shares the joys of her Farm with kids and adults. She can be reached at Join Carole for a reading from her second book, “Yes, I Name Them,” at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, N.H., on Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 6:30 p.m.
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Carole Soule

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