Of late I’ve written extensively about Norman, our bottle fed calf who was rejected by his biological mother in favor of his heifer, freemartin twin.
I feel my story may have reached its denouement. It’s inevitable, I suppose, but surprising by how soon it happened. After two months of twice daily bottle feedings, to Trudy’s and my surprise, Norman has begun to rebuff our feeding efforts. His action has been not so much stiff-arming us but rather a polite demurral. He still saunters over and allows us to scratch his neck and ears and he continues to gaze at us with his dark eyes with long, curly eyelashes that Madonna would kill for. Nevertheless, he has been refusing to take hold of the nipple despite our best cajoling. This has proved surprising and concerning to us as prior bottle fed calves have continued to take a bottle for many more months.
When the herd realizes we’d not come to offer them range cubes (think cow candy), they soon return to mowing the pasture and graze away. Norman, observing their departure, has been turning away from us, responding to the strong social draw of the herd.
One evening several days after once again being rebuffed by Norman, Trudy and I stood in the pasture holding our still full bottles of milk, feeling full of rejection. We both worried about Norman lacking sufficient nutrition to sustain himself.
It was then we observed a nearby cow who had been keeping a keen eye on Norman and us. Nearby was her white calf of four or five months of age. We soon saw her calf meander up to her and latch onto a full udder for his evening feeding. Shortly after this occurred came a more surprising sneak attack occurred from Norman. He approached between mama cow’s hind legs and began to feed earnestly but on a less impressive hind teat.
The reader needs to understand how rare it is for a mama cow to accept a calf for feeding that is not her own. Nevertheless, there it was before our eyes- two calves, one her own and one adopted, suckling away.
Trudy turned to me with an expression one part surprise and one part relief. Our bottle calf was no more. Over the last week we’ve observed Norman feeding from this cow several times. While he only merits “hind tit”, he chooses his lowly feeding station over our carefully mixed and precisely warmed calf formula.
To be sure, Trudy and I welcome the extra hour in the morning and in the evening and not having to prepare the formula, seek out Norman, feed him his gallon of milk, and cleaning the calf bottles. Nevertheless, we are left with an “empty nest” feeling like when our children left home to go off to college. It’s only natural of course that Norman become a full member of the herd and attends fully to his cattle herd and less to his humans. Our heads get it. But our hearts feel pangs of rejection.
Whether or not this is the end of his feedings or he will require only occasional supplementation will be determined. When Norman is bigger, I might just carrying range cubes in my pocket and slip him an occasional treats. He still feels special.