It’s been a week since we lost Princess, a week since Duke was left without a mother. We are still working on the adoption process, hoping that Blush, who has enough milk production to take care of two calves, accept our proposal.
We have moved the calves into the barn with Blush where we can monitor Blush and her willingness to the whole process.
A typical feeding starts like this: I walk into the barn, Blush and her baby Maroon are lounging around as Duke stands up. I walk over to the hay stack and pull out a couple of primo slabs and take them to the manger. As I fluff the hay, I slide a small lock off the head gates so they will lock Blush into place when she sticks her head in to eat.
Blush knows what I am doing. She used to be a show heifer, she understands how the head gates work, they are not harmful or uncomfortable in any way, just restrictive.
Duke starts pacing the pen and smacking his lips, knowing full well that he is moments from a fulfilling meal of fresh milk. He starts aiming for Blush’s bag and tries to get into position with his behind at her front shoulder and his head at her udder. But until Blush is secured by the head gate, she avoids him and runs him off. She puts her head down and scoots Duke all the way across the pen. Duke acts like he is sad, and pretends to look busy with his own batch of hay.
Blush calmly walks over to her manger and gingerly slips her head into the stanchion. She bows her head and takes a couple of spears of hay out of the pile without dropping her head far enough for the latch to catch. She does this for a bite or two before dropping her head to eat in earnest, the slide catches on the little hook and she is caught.
Duke hears the small ‘clink’ of the metal as it latches, he sprints across the pen, slides right into Blush’s side and is nursing before she even picks her head up. Blush moves her head to the side and sees that it is not her own baby nursing, she dances around a little denoting the unwelcome intrusion, but she no longer tries to kick at him. She has resigned herself to this step of the game.
Duke gets his fill of Blush’s milk before moving over to the creep pen (an area inside the large pen that has a small opening that only the calves can fit into). Inside the creep pen, both Duke and Maroon can have their choice of grass screening pellets, calf manna pellets (compressed milk supplement), hay, water or milk re-placer (like baby formula for calves). Both boys usually choose to take a mixture of the bounty available in the creep pen. By the time Duke and Maroon are done in the creep pen, Blush is also ready to lay down and chew her cud for a few hours.
During the day, the barn is opened up, Blush and the boys can go outside to the barnyard. They nibble grass, take naps during the breaks in the clouds and meander back and forth freely from barnyard to barn.
If the trio was put back out into the field right now, Blush would not let Duke nurse. We will stay on this course, making sure that Blush is getting plenty of nutrients and fresh water to keep her milk production up, while letting Duke get two hot meals a day.
The process is working well so far, time will tell if it is going to work.