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New Cow Makes Poor First Impression

May 16, 2022

Fiddler and Airbnb farm guest Elizabeth Anderson named this abandoned bull calf Calum Bull after fellow fiddler Calum Belle. You can listen to Elizabeth's album, "Over the Isles."

The little red calf bleated like a sheep as he wandered in the field among 20 cows and 11 calves, but no cow came running to mother him. The call of a calf looking for his mom is unmistakable and usually brings her running, but it didn't work for this little guy. 

Four days previous, Veterinarian Dr. Lauren Polanik tested some of my just-purchased cows for pregnancy. It can be hard to tell by looking whether a cow is pregnant or just majestically beefy. And if a pregnancy isn't far along, a blood test is needed. So I would secure each cow in the "squeeze chute," where the close quarters render them helpless. Some of the cows willingly entered the chute. Others needed to be haltered and led. But most were cooperative.

Then it was Helen's turn. A cow will rarely perform one of those double-hoofed mule kicks, but when she was in the chute's entryway, that's what Helen did. Fortunately, I was standing to the side, and her flying hooves missed me. Most cows will stop at one kick, but not Helen. The next time it was her right rear leg, then her left. Just what I needed – an ambidextrous kicking cow. 

After the third kick, Helen lowered her head and pawed the ground, a sure sign she was about to charge, and we got out of her way. Rather than deal with a belligerent cow, I opened the gate. When she saw an escape path, Helen bolted through the opening.

"No pregnancy test for that one today," I said.

Mother of the Year?

Four days later, in the ultimate pregnancy test, Helen gave birth to a little red calf now named Calum Bull. I missed the delivery, but I did – from a distance – watch Helen clean her newborn calf. She cooed to him and stayed close when he wandered off. Was the hostile cow going to be Mother of the Year? Maybe and maybe not. Still keeping my distance, I checked on them twice that day.

Airbnb guests, accomplished fiddler Elizabeth and Scottish dancer Thom, joined me to check on Calum the next day. We found the poor creature wandering alone in the field of cows, searching for his mother, apparently abandoned. Had she even fed him? It was time to intervene.

The weak calf was easy to catch. Thom helped me put him in the back of the pickup truck, and husband Bruce drove us all to the barn. Usually, I keep mom and calf together, but Helen seemed dangerous, so we left her out of it.

Calum's New Life

Calum now lives in the barn, learning to suck from a bottle with the daily companionship of humans and dogs. When we brought him in, he had not nursed. His poo was black, not the white that comes after nursing, which means he also hadn't gotten any life-saving colostrum. I gave him a shot of penicillin to boost his baby-calf immune system. 

Saving a calf takes more than human effort; the calf has to want to live. I have high hopes for Calum Bull, named by Elizabeth after another fiddler, Calum Bell. Let's all hope that Calum lives to appreciate music. I don't know what will become of his mother, but for now, at least, she does not impress the boss.

Listen here to Elizabeth's album, "Over the Isles."


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