I've been loathe to write this... it's been a challenging week. Farming is not for the faint hearted! Besides the somewhat normal, if not to the max this year, challenges with insect and animal pests in the gardens, we had a very disappointing death this week.
I found this baby inexplicably dead on Monday. After much research, investigation, and consultation, I believe I know what the main cause of death was, but it doesn't really matter. The end result is the same. You wait for almost a year to see those new calves arrive and to have it taken so quickly when it was initially so healthy is disappointing - to put it mildly.
I believe the calf was stricken down by a condition called fly strike. When weather conditions are just right (hot and humid, which it was horribly so with a bit of rain on top of it), fly pressure can be heavy and if the hair is moist or the naval isn't dry they can lay their eggs so quickly on a new calf that it actually overwhelms them very quickly, in as little as 24 hours. This is something I had always heard about but never seen. Having spent most of my livestocking years in the arid West, I had never come across it first hand.
There may have been confounding factors, and I won't bore you with all the details, but suffice to say, I'm very disappointed about the loss. It's funny, when we first started having calves on the place, when I didn't see a calf at least once a day, I was beside myself, and then I started chastising myself for being silly. Well, I guess when I didn't see that calf at all Sunday, I wish I'd been a little silly and gone looking for it. Hind sight is 20/20, I suppose.
Thank goodness the elk calf seems healthy so far! I didn't get to see it today, despite my efforts - the elk calves hide really well - and the mamas are not quite so magnanimous with me in there looking for them (i.e. they'd run me down me if given the chance!), but I did have proof of life yesterday and it looked very healthy, running around and appearing quite strong.
Today, I gave the yak some grass around lunch time and I was a bit concerned that Goldie (the golden colored cow) wasn't around. She's kind of a loner, often hanging off just a bit from everyone else, but when I didn't see her this evening either, I figured I'd best go looking for her. She can be a bit aggressive, so I thought I'd get the four wheeler to check on her. On my way back to the house to get it, I saw her through the trees... and... what was that black thing trotting along beside her!?! Goldie had her calf! It's our first black calf - a "trim" as they call it because it has white on the face, leg(s), and tail. I haven't had a chance to get close, so I don't know the gender yet. It was moving around pretty good and nursing though, so that's a good sign.
As you might imagine, I'm a bit nervous. When you can lose a healthy calf in the blink of an eye, suddenly they seem very fragile. But, the weather is much nicer; it's supposed to be very mild tonight, so I think s/he will be all right until morning. I'll bring them in to the corrals tomorrow and get a better look at the baby and give it a once over... and maybe apply some fly prevention.
Despite the loss this week, a new calf always makes things seem a bit brighter. I think #7 is on deck next, but I'm not sure exactly how soon. Hopefully, she will bring us another wonderful surprise soon!
It's really my favorite way for it to happen... I like to go out and be surprised, surprised by a healthy calf that just suddenly is there. Nature did what it was supposed to and all went well. After last year's lost calf, I find I've become a bit of a nervous nelly.
Obviously, I knew they were getting close, but when I went out to move the yak today, I was surprised to hear that unmistakable quiet pig squeak yak babies make. Let me show you what I mean:
I just love baby yak! They're like an interesting combination of cow and pig in the first week or two. Their little yak grunt is more like a pig grunt and they even kind of look piglet like, with their big pink noses (they don't all have pink noses, but when the muzzle is white, the nose is pink!).
I love that I can go right in there and say hi to the calf... well, as long as mama is otherwise occupied! ;-) In this case, mama had already left the pasture with the group as I was moving them I had already closed the gate before we all realized what had happened. This is a little girl and though she's a bit knock kneed, I think she'll probably grow out of it. This is 100's new calf - she was the one who had the live calf last year - and she seems quite a bit more robust than last year's wee one was in the first week. This one tried to head butt me three times already!!!
100 is such a good mama, so I know that little one is in good hands. After I left there, I went to feed the elk and noticed that 603 hadn't come to eat with everyone else, so I went hunting for her. Figures I didn't have my good camera with me, so this was my first peek at the new calf. Don't know the gender yet, but the coloration is a bit different than the calves we've had so far. S/he is more taupe colored than ruddy. It's very pretty!
After getting my big camera, I realized they had moved and baby crawled through a hole in the fence to another pasture leaving mama behind. I was a bit worried when I saw two of the other cows come over and paw at her/him. I probably don't need to worry, but in the wild, the cows go off by themselves to have their calves, so this is a bit of an artificial environment for calving. I went to get a bit more grain and everyone left the little one alone and 603 managed to get in the same pasture with baby and all the others. Then the ladies went back to check on the calf, but mama was there to make sure they behaved themselves. I've seen this with every new calf on the place: the other mamas have to come and check them out!
Fortunately, baby was along a fence line that I had access to, so I went to see if I could get a better look and maybe a few good pictures. Success! But as I got closer, it became apparent to me that 603 is bonded with her calf. No worries with this first time mom that she won't be taking care of her calf. She made it very clear that I was close enough with my camera. This is a mama who would be more than willing to stomp the tar out of me if that fence wasn't there!
At this point, I decided it was time to high tail it out of there and let her just get used to being a mom. Love that close up I got of the calf though (top photo on this post). And you know what!?! I think there might be another yak calf making an appearance tonight! We'll see what the morning brings! What a wonderfully surprising afternoon!