Helping a calf nurse his mama is relatively easy in a small pen or stall, if the cow or heifer is not too wild and you have someone to help you. Our cows know and trust us and are easy to handle. One person can monitor the cow to keep her from moving away while the other person guides the calf. The person holding the cow in her corner should stand in front of her at the edge of her comfort zone, and not so close that she feels trapped or threatened. A long stick can be used as an extension of your arm, to block her movements if she thinks about going past you. It can also remind her to keep her attention on you rather than bunt the person helping her calf.
With quiet firmness you can make almost any cow stand still while her calf is helped onto a teat. If the person helping the calf stays low and out of her main line of vision, keeping a mellow attitude (non-threatening and not afraid) the cow won’t get very upset. If you’re the one helping the calf, keep him between you and the cow. Then when the cow turns her head around to check on things, she sees and smells her calf, and she doesn’t want to kick at him even if she’d like to kick you. If you are not struggling with the calf or making her worry about him, she’ll accept what you’re doing.
If she tries to sniff you, raise your hand for her to smell (it’s covered with scent of her wet new calf since you’ve been handling him) and this will usually satisfy her that you’re not a threat. Let her smell your hand (or jacket sleeve if it’s covered with birth slime) than some other portion of your body or clothing, or she might get worried. As long as you smell familiar, this puts her mind at ease.
If a timid cow is uncomfortable with you that close, or feels trapped having to stand still, give her a flake of good alfalfa hay to eat while the calf is being helped to nurse. This can settle her mind and give her something pleasant to do; she’s more apt to tolerate your help and not run off.
If the cow is aggressive, you may have to restrain the cow to help her calf nurse. But many “protective” mamas can be handled without restraint if they are smart enough to respect you like they would respect a more dominant herd member.
For this to work, you must have no fear of the cow. You also need a weapon. A stout stick (to whack across her face if she tries to butt you) puts you in the role of boss cow. All a dominant cow has to do to make another cow back off is shake her head and threaten. You don’t need to use your weapon if a cow respects you as boss. You can insist that she stand back while you iodine or tag her calf, or insist that she stand still and behave as someone helps her calf nurse. The person helping the calf must also be unafraid of the cow. If the cow senses fear she’ll try to butt that person. There’s a fine line, however, between firmness and excessive force. If you beat on the cow or yell at her she’ll become upset and WON’T stand still and may run over you or the calf. Quiet firmness works best.
HeatherSmithThomasrancheswithher husbandLynnnearSalmon,Idaho.Contact herat208-756-2841