Two Weeny Weaners: Pt. 1
Two weeny weaners was what we’d come to look at. Their weenies, once the steers were old enough, would definitely not be transporting sperm to get my cows in calf. They were in a pen in Anna’s sheep yards. Five to sixth months is a good age to wean calves – these ones were both seven months. Lucky them to be still getting mother’s milk.
Two weeny weaners’ status only achieved an hour before we arrived. Truly weaned is the time it takes to end: plaintive bellowing, fence line pacing, neck stretch craning to see mum on some distant plain, shit runnier than it should be, sucking on anything that looks remotely like a cow’s teat.
I’m sure it was a brass hose nozzle that got stuck in the windpipe of my very first pure bred Dexter calf. I’d left the end of the hose in the trough. The nozzle would have been of a similar length and girth to a cow’s teat. Hose attached it would have even wobbled about obligingly!
The vet, using medical jargon to blind me with the science, said it was a sweetcorn cob: “The profile of the case fits the prognosis of a cob causing the blockage,” she said confidently as the foul gases escaped and the calf’s stomach deflated.
The procedure is a simple but effective one: a hollow plastic pipe is fed down the windpipe to dislodge the blockage. A few nervous moments before the vet’s sure its gone down the right pipe – perforating a lung’s not a good look! It’s getting close to nine years since that scare, but I’m pretty sure it was paraffin oil she funneled down the calf’s gullet, the lubricant aiding the safe and non-abrasive slither of the tube.
Five months old, and only a couple of days since she’d been taken off her mum and put on a stock truck. I went down to her first thing in the morning. She was standing motionless by the fence with her guts blown taut as any balloon. Her pipes wheezing in and out, slow, laboured.
Some small softish cobs, and the canes left over from the sweetcorn harvest had been eaten by her and a yearling Dexter heifer. (I’d bought the two of them together.) But the garden hose I’d used to fill the trough had its own pipe problems – all pipe and no brass nozzle head.
I’m sure it’s sitting down there in Violet’s stomach. Violet’s now nine years old and while not exactly a pet, she is the herd matriarch and living out the rest of her days here.
I don’t have visible junk in my paddocks, but over the years it’s inevitable that she would have ingested bits of blue polyethylene baling twine, other plastic fragments, perhaps a nail or staple or two, and tiny wire offcuts.
By ‘down there’ I mean the reticulum or front part of the four part stomach. No surprises then that they call it ‘the hardware stomach’! If you avoid the intimidating medical terms, then a serious case of it becomes ‘hardware disease’. That’s a result of digestive contractions pushing sharp objects through the stomach wall into the abdomen or chest cavity. They’ve even been known to get to the heart.
One of many good reasons to keep your paddocks as clean as possible in all sorts of ways. And to make sure dangly things that could not only be sucked on but also become detached, are kept out of a paddock you’re using to wean calves.
I’d inquired over the phone a couple of weeks previous as to whether Anna had fully weaned the calves we were going up to have a look at. “Weaned as they get on the truck,” she’d said. (Or in our case, the trailer crate.) Rallying support from a well-known local cattle breeder: “Marion does it that way, thinks it’s best.”
Common practice and common jargon, recalling a similar response from Noel, the guy I bought my very first Dexter off: “Weaned when they’re taken away on the truck.”
For a few years there I had three or four Dexter cows that I’d get in calf. The Dexter bull, on loan, would be here for a couple of heat cycles. (Seven to eight weeks made sure the bull was around for all the cows to cycle twice.)
When it came time to wean the calves, I’d put them in a small, secure paddock, and their mums and the rest of the herd in an adjoining paddock. The cows didn’t take much convincing that their six month old calves could fend for themselves. After four days, the herd would be moved to a far paddock, mums not so distant that they couldn’t distinctly hear the bellows of their young, but they’d be mute as, munching on grass and quite unperturbed . After two weeks the by now fully weaned calves would be reunited with them.
Stressful enough being transported, and plonked in a new environment, without the harsh jolt of being taken away from mum, mother’s milk, and the rest of the herd. So my challenge, if I decided to buy two weeny weaners from Anna, would be to keep animal and homesteader stress levels down for that first couple of weeks while they were being weaned.
“That’s a heifer calf in the next pen,” she said. “You’ve got a choice of three if you like. You did say you’d be happy with heifers or steers?”
With extra emphasis on “or” and the pitch going up as she turned it into a question. Her email had said she had two weaned steers for me to look at.
“Is she the same age as these two? Looks like she’s got some Jersey in her?” Yep – apparently born around the same time and three-quarter Dexter, three-sixteenth Jersey, one-sixteenth Angus. And the steer that looked like “a good doer” as they say, he’s three-quarter Dexter, one-eighth Jersey, one-eighth Angus.
“Angus is good eating.” She didn’t need to convince me – you don’t get much better than an aged, marbled Angus steak. And prejudices aside, Jersey is a beautifully fine grained meat, tender and tasty. The butchers say a Jersey’s yellow fat puts customers off. What the heck, do they think there’s something wrong with it if it isn’t white?
The good doer? Yes. But I wasn’t so sure about the other weeny weaner. A black pure bred Dexter steer, he was small at seven months even for a Dexter, and he didn’t look any beefier than that leggier heifer with a bit of dairy cow Jersey about her. The ‘doer’ looked the part – bred for beef, and the girl matched him in height and length, just not quite so filled out round the middle or as fleshed out round the neck, shoulders and hindquarters.
Obvious where I’m going with this. Counter the boy’s short, broad bullish face with her slender, softer, big-eyed, dish-faced Jersey features; and in the body more beefy than dairy-style bony. Those two will do me. Sold!
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully for this week. Next Monday I’ll let you know how they’re settling in: Two Weeny Weaners: Pt. 2. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.