Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Dangers of Beef

So far this year, they have found 5 leppie (orphan) calves. My job is to feed and care for all the leppies up until the time they are weaned and sent with the other calves, which is anywhere from 3 to 8 months.

A single bottle calf is always cute. Their wet little noses and big eyes with drooping eyelashes are hard to resist…but as soon as there is more than one, the cuteness quotient is gone. It’s amazing how destructive an herbivore can be! Little 60 and 70 lb calves butt like battering rams, slobber, suck off your elbows, and kneecaps, leaving giant hickeys and black and blue marks from your ankles up. Competition is fierce and as soon as one bottle has been hung, its on the ground with all the leppies struggling to grab it at the same time. Some suck more than others (you can take that any way you like). This year, every single one of them has been black so far, so it is impossible to tell which one has not been getting fed due to the bottle thieves. The stronger calves tend to suck theirs down in record time, then knock the other guy off and steal his/her milk too.

Enter, Number Five and her friends. #5 is the youngest of the boss’ 5 kids who work here on the ranch.

After my whining and complaining bitterly about not knowing who lost the bottle, or who stole the bottle, #5 stepped in with her usual problem solving skills. Three high school girls showed up armed with grease pencils in varying colors. Into the leppie pen they went, Cletus hard on their heels. Running around and grabbing calves by hind legs, ears, or whatever else was available, they drug them to a central spot, ‘mugged’ them and began to cover them with ‘war paint’. Bruno and Cletus were alarmed to see the calves flanked and sat upon, Cletus licked their noses and continually checked for breathing while Elizabeth sat on them and painted, and Bruno barked out empty threats and alarms from the lamb pen where he remained, to insure no mistreatment would come to his lambs.

With the flourish of a Rembrandt or Picasso, she marked the calves so I could easily tell them apart. She did a fine job of it, as she does at everything. This is a highly capable youngster, who rides, ropes, drives a backhoe, tractor, and excavator, cooks for groups, and has been hauling me around in a pick up and horsetrailer since she was 11.

Nothing escaped her artful eye, not even the lambs.

Today, it was time to move leppie #5 out of the barn and into the leppie corral. It is necessary to keep them in a stall the first few days, to insure they are not scoury and to get them on a bottle. Once they are taking the bottle well and will follow it, I put them outside in a big corral where they can soak up the sunshine and nibble on grass. Leppie #5 is the most aggressive yet, having bashed open the stall of the barn in a temper tantrum after drinking her half gallon of milk replacer. She wanted more. I knew this was gonna hurt trying to move her, as I am not very fast anymore, so I nominated Randyman to be the bottle carrier. We put a little warm water in the bottle as bait. She walked along, pushing hard against him as they headed to the house. I opened the gate up to let them pass. She suddenly realized “I” am the one who brings the milk, not this clown carrying the insipid water that was currently in her bottle. With a grunt, she cranked it into high gear and I with a scream, I gave my best effort to running across the backyard, while she butted me and tried to suck the pockets off my jeans, repeatedly stepping on my heels. Laughing loudly, Randyman helped get her through the gate and into the pen.

There is a hotwire fence that separates me from the leppies so I can sneak into a wooden alleyway to feed them without being battered. It is necessary to teach them that hotwire ‘bites’ so they don’t wind up running through it and leaving the country in between feedings. It did my heart good to see the newest and pushiest leppie lay her wet nose against that electric wire. She knows what it is now, and Bruno and Cletus are busy welcoming her to the asylum.

All I can say is, bottle calves suck.

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