AMY KIRK: Newborn calves are my heroesI can’t imagine a tougher way to begin life than to be a calf. It takes so much effort for newborn calves to get across that rickety, iffy bridge of life and make it alive.
By: Amy Kirk, The Daily Republic
I can’t imagine a tougher way to begin life than to be a calf. It takes so much effort for newborn calves to get across that rickety, iffy bridge of life and make it alive.
First they have to be in the right position before they can even begin their journey to live. Once they’re pointed in the right direction, hooves and head first, they have to make it through the squeeze chute of life: the birth canal. Next they’re greeted by the outside world where there’s no more cozy warm amniotic fluid. Life can start out a real shocker if their mother decides to calve when it’s cold.
Once a calf has landed on the ground and before it gets a chance to lift its head up off the ground, its mother starts licking the goo off. After a cow’s delivered her birth sac of joy she’s got a messy baby to lick dry and cleaning to eat. The little snipes have to literally stand up for themselves which can be a challenge when their mother keeps licking and knocking them down.
It is exhausting enough to get squeezed through the birth canal but then a calf gets pushed around by its mother’s big tongue. When born, a calf can barely shake its weak little head to fling off the heavy, wet amniotic jelly and birth sac, and the weight of its former home clinging to him or her makes the calf’s ears droop. Calves will just lay there limp catching their breath, looking around trying to figure out what the heck just happened while getting used to new sensations: cold air and being licked alive by a big tongue.
For the first hour, a calf’s life mission is to get milk in its belly from the udder of life. Calves instinctively know there’s food nearby but they have to figure it out on their own because their mother is too busy with cleaning to show them. They have to muster up enough baby calf try to stand up in order to find their mother’s milk. A mother cow’s strong, rough tongue licking her baby dry stimulates and motivates him or her to get up and snoop around for their traveling lunch counter.
Calves will start to untangle their legs in an effort to get up while being licked on constantly. When they figure out that the limbs attached to their body come in handy for getting around, they use them to find their first meal. It takes a built-up reserve of energy before they can withstand getting licked brusquely and not get knocked down while standing on their stilt legs. Mother cows will not give the licking thing a rest until her calf is all clean and dry. It doesn’t take long once its belly is full, for the calf to start exploring its surroundings, sniffing at barn walls, the spot they plopped into the world, the barn cats huddled and staring at them, and the cow in the next calving pen.
Newborn calves may arrive small and weak but are equipped with determination and grit to get on their feet shortly after being born. If calves could give advice on survival I’m sure they’d say, “If you can take a good lickin’ from your mother then you can stand up to anything.”
Amy Kirk and her husband raise their two kids on a fourth-generation cow/calf operation near Pringle. She blogs at ranchwifeslant.areavoices.com.