“I hate naked calves, Mom!”
I couldn’t agree more.
A naked calf in our world means we have failed. It means that no matter how hard we tried, no matter what we did, a calf died. It also means that a momma lost her baby, but it often means she will get a second chance at being a momma for another calf that needs her. This is where the ‘naked’ part comes in.
Just like in humans, changes in progesterone and estrogen levels initiate calving. Oxytocin levels released during calving triggers the cow’s maternal instincts. When their calf is born, the cow will lick it off. This bonding process helps the cow to “always” (in a perfect world) be able to find their calf by learning their smell. There will always be a cow that won’t claim her calf, or a cow that seems to never know where her calf is. Fortunately, these are few and far between.
When a cow loses her calf, often times we will graft another calf on to her. This means we try to get her to claim the other calf as her own and raise it; essentially, she will adopt the new calf. This helps to retain the cow in the herd by keeping her milking and raising a calf. This new calf is often a twin calf from another cow, or a calf that has been removed from its mom for some reason. There are many reasons a calf may be removed from her original mother. In some cases, the original cow won’t own her calf and, at times, will even try to kill it. In some cases, the cow is having problems with her milk supply… either has bad milk or no milk. In other cases, the cow might be hurt or crippled for some reason and unable to raise her calf. There are all examples of why a calf might be placed with a new mom.
Cows have an incredible sense of smell and uses it to find which calf is hers. Because of this, sometimes the hide from the dead calf will be used to help graft the new calf. We remove the hide from the dead calf from one side, up over the top of the back, and down the other side. This creates a blanket-like hide that we can then attach to the calf that we want to graft. We will put this blanket on the new calf and let the new mom smell him. If all goes well, she will eventually claim this calf as her own after a day or two and the hide blanket is removed. There are other tools to help graft a calf. Some people rub iodine on the cow’s nose, as well as the back of the new calf thus masking the calf’s smell and helping the cow correlate the smell on her nose to the smell of the calf. Other people replace the iodine with vanilla. There are also “tools” in the marketplace that all profess to be best at helping graft a calf. Like anything, everyone has a different preference. However, almost all of these tools help mask the replacement calf’s smell and help the cow learn to “own” the new smelling calf.