I think they’re cute and fun. My cowboy probably thinks they’re cute too, though he would never admit it. And for him, the fun starts to wear off as calving season goes on. I am speaking of our bottle calves, of course. Every calving season, there is one or two calves that have lost their mamas for some reason – she dies, gets sick, doesn’t want him, has twins, doesn’t have enough milk, the list goes on and on – and so we feed them milk replacer with a bottle until we find him a new mama or he doesn’t need it anymore. Most years we have one or two at a time, this year we have four. That’s two bottles per calf per day, sometimes more, times four. Cowboy stays real busy mixing bottles and feeding for these hungry little beasts.
First there is the milk replacer, which comes in a 50 pound bag and smells like vanilla protein powder. The water temperature has to be perfect, not too warm and not too cool. “Exactly what temperature is that?” I ask my cowboy as he spends no less that three minutes adjusting the water for the bottles. He shrugs and keeps testing the water – must be something cowboys just know. The large plastic bottle warms my hands as I follow Cowboy into the dark calving barn. Spring sunshine pours through the barn’s dusty windows and a gentle breeze sweeps through the open doors. In the corner of the barn two sets of very interested eyes watch us enter the barn. Cowboy laughs quietly to himself as he opens the gate to their pen, “Prepare to be mauled.” Frantically, the calves’ blue tongues find the nipple to our bottles and the feeding begins. I am trying to stay upright as my calf pushes and butts against me and the bottle, mother nature telling him that this will produce more milk. I wrestle the bottle out of my calf’s mouth to allow a little air into it. Immediately my insistent little charge is mouthing my legs, licking my jeans and stepping on my boots. My calf drains the rest of its bottle and roots into my knees for more. “All gone,” I say, slipping out the gate behind my cowboy. Two little black heads push through the rails of the panel, looking for more of that creamy, deliciousness. Back in the vet room, my cowboy rinses the bottles and starts the bottle making process again, “Two down, two to go.” Later, as we finish feeding the fourth and final calf, I realize that these precious little buggers are a lot of work… and still cute.