There is only one guarantee in life, if you live, someday you will die. There is nothing more heart wrenching than watching a mother mourn her lost child. If you think that animals do not feel pain, then just watch a mother cow after she loses her calf.
Number 9 is one of the best cows in our small herd of cows. She is a Charolais cross, so she is a dark gray and her hair is actually curly. She has Angus in her and a white blaze across her face. Number 9 is not much of a name, I will be the first to admit, but it actually suits her. She has a small plastic tag in her left ear and the Number 9 on the tag has almost faded completely.
Number nine has always surprised us with her calf. Cows are supposed to carry their calves nine months, and though I keep close records, somehow, she always manages to sneak her newborn in on me. This year was no exception. She was due at Thanksgiving, yet before Halloween she presented us with a tiny bull calf. The calf had curly hair, just like his mother’s and was of the same color. The calf was born less than ten months after his older brother.
The calf seemed to do well with the herd. There was one other calf and the two often bucked and played while their mothers grazed contentedly with the herd. About mid-November, Number 9’s calf seemed to not be doing so well. We penned up both mother cows and their calves in the corrals, hoping some extra feed would help the calf to bounce back.
The calf did not respond to the better feed and still seemed despondent. He also developed diarrhea, so the vet recommended an antibiotic as well as a sulpha-based drug to help him get over the diarrhea. He seemed to do much better with his medication. We continued to keep the two pair in the corral as winter was setting in. With plenty of hay and fresh water, the two pair should be doing well. The bulls came to the corrals and watched Number 9 for a couple of days letting me know she was in season and they would love the opportunity to take care of her.
However, I wanted to let Number 9’s body heal. 10 months between pregnancies was just not enough, in my opinion. So the bulls wandered back out to pasture.
Number 9 was a doting mother. The calf seemed to do better and winter came on in. we received our first snow the week before Christmas. It was too warm to last for long, but we enjoyed it while it lasted. The two calves bucked and played and really seemed to enjoy the new experience.
It was three days after the storm that disaster struck. Number 9’s baby was down. He could barely hold his head up. His breathing was shallow and there was a rattle in his chest. Pneumonia had set in practically overnight. I suspect the ten months of between pregnancies shad actually caused the calf to have immature lungs.
We doctored him, hoping to help him get over it, but knew in our hearts that there was not much hope for the young calf. I walked out that evening, just before sunset, and Number 9 was standing over her calf, her head hung down in sorrow. The calf had slipped away during that cool, sunny afternoon. Number 9 lifted her head as I approached and the sorrow and confusion was evident in her eyes and every movement of her body. She would not let me into the pen, instinctively knowing I would have to take the body away. I opened the gate and let the other pair into a different pen. They moved quietly, almost respectfully, without me doing more than opening the gate. I closed the gate behind them, letting Number 9 have a last night with her baby alone.
A mother must be allowed to grieve.
Reference: Personal experience