I have had the opportunity to serve as the maternity ward “checker” for a number of groups of first calf heifers over the years and have determined that they are not so different than people. My observations include that there are several categories of new mothers.
1. The devoted. She has been waiting for her day in the pasture for her little bovine bundle of joy to arrive and does exactly what she is supposed to. Cleans the baby off, fights off intruders, licks it, remembers where she left it, and feeds it happily. Thankfully the majority fit this category.
2. The baby thief. She has birthed a new calf which is probably lying very close by, but she prefers the two week old, already dry and tagged version. During the birthing process her little pea brain told her that the calf of choice could indeed be hers and that she would not need to tend to the slimy little arrival on the far end. With a heifer, despite the best efforts of the original mother to reclaim her calf, and repeated attempts to separate the parties, this is often only remedied by the old “out of sight, out of mind” trick. New mom and the real calf must be moved to the isolation ward and usually within a few hours the cow will decide that maybe she should feed that bawling bundle of joy.
3. The indifferent. She has a calf, breathes a sigh of relief that she can walk with ease again, and walks away, as soon as labor is over to begin grazing or catching up on some rest. She does not want her calf, or any of the others in the pasture. Again, off you head to the isolation unit to get her in a small enough area to force her to let the new calf who is running around looking frantically for any non-moving udder to feed it.
4. The aggressor. Probably my least favorite because the hormones have completely taken over. The calf appears to the cow as an alien creature Bellowing and sniffing, mom is usually tolerable of the calf while it is lying down, and knows that there is some reason she is supposed to stay with it . Things generally take a turn for the worse when the alien attempts to stand. These babies are tough and think being tossed through the high tensile fence is the norm. Fortunately, after a few hours if the calf hasn’t given up yet or gotten injured, the hormones subside and bonding begins. Not an easy way to “fix” this.
5. The high maintenance mother. She wants no part of labor and thinks if she just continues to eat without dilating or pushing, that the whole pregnancy will just go away. She is the one who you bring in to assist, thinking there must be a baby elephant inside from the way she is acting, to grab a foot and easily pull out a 70 pound calf while she moans as if the end is near. I have seen the occasional show heifer have this ‘syndrome”.
I’m sure you probably have other categories to add if you’ve been the “heifer checker”. Luckily after that first one arrives, the ones in following years are usually uneventful and they have the motherhood thing all figured out. Happy Calving Seasons to you all.