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Cows/Cattle/calf & first time mom


had to help pull calf. mom got up but has no interest in calf
now what

Hi Leah,

The first and most important thing you should have done--after getting the calf cleaned up of course--was get some colostrum in that calf.  Best way of doing that is by tubing if the calf won't take to the bottle right away.  You just need an esophageal tube feeder, carefully put it down the calf's esophagus (not the trachea, otherwise it will choke and die from colostrum in the lungs), and use gravity to feed the calf.  Colostrum--which is rich in immunoglobins and antibodies that gives the newborn calf immunity from all sorts of illnesses and diseases it is subject to when it comes into the more harsher, colder world--must be fed within the first 6 to 12 hours after birth, though some stretch it to 24 hrs.  Why this is is because a calf's digestive system only has so long to, in lack of better terms, "make use" of the colostrum it gets from the cow or the powdered packaged colostrum you have to feed it yourself before it becomes no longer effective.  No or little colostrum in time means reduced immunity in the calf, making it more susceptible to diseases which can lead to scours, pneumonia, coccidiosis, etc.  

So, if you can't get colostrum from the cow by milking her out (if she'll let you, that is), use powdered colostrum you can buy from a local feed store or your vet.  But the best (usually) colostrum for the calf is the stuff coming from its dam. I say "usually" because sometimes it's not always that way.  A first-calf heifer may not have the same quality of colostrum as that from an older cow, and from a cow that has been vaccinated several weeks pre-calving for calfhood and pregnancy-associated diseases.  But of course that's not always the case.  A lot of the time a first-calf heifer (I'm going to be calling her a "cow" from here on) will have adequate colostrum for her first born, though.

Now, once you've got a good bit of colostrum in the calf (around two to four quarts, depending on the weight and size of the calf, best once every 3 to 4 hours as needed), is the issue of getting the first-calver to accept her calf. In my opinion, sometimes they need a bit of time to themselves (without any human interference) to see that their calf is well and truly theirs.  Some have better mothering instincts than others (depending on breed and disposition), so if you try to keep the calf with the cow as long as possible where she can see, smell and hear it, she may turn around and become a good mom in the end.  Often time it's the calf stubborn will to want to keep suckling from mom, even despite her efforts to get away from him or kick him off that will eventually convince her to buckle down and become a proper mother!  If the calf's up and wanting to actively suck from a teat from his dam, regardless if she's just in the same pen with him or if you have her confined in a medina gate (just a gate against the side of a building or fence that you can use to confine her [head's toward the hinge, hind end at the opening allowing you to tie the end of the gate to the fence so that she can't get out]) or a squeeze chute, that is a REALLY good sign.  If she's really stubborn and/or you want to get her to mother up quickly, here are some things you can try:

- Let Nature take care of it and let the cow figure out for herself that that "thing" that came out of her is actually hers to care for.
- Tie the heifer up in a medina gate or squeeze chute and let the calf suck from her.  If she kicks, hobble her.
- Put a dog in with the heifer and calf.  She more than likely may see that the dog is enemy and will be more proactive in protecting the calf and thus claiming the calf as her own.
- Smear molasses, some mild perfume, castor oil or any smelly (should smell "good" to a cow, even if it may stink to you), non-harmful substance over the cow's nose and the calf's back, from the poll to the tail and put it in with her.  This will get the cow to associate the smell on her nostrils with the calf and get her to recognize that that calf doesn't smell any weirder than what's she's smelled before, if that makes any sense.  

There are many other tips and tricks that other cattle producers have used to get a first-calver to accept her calf, but these are all I can think of at the moment. Try what you can, experiment a bit, but don't feel like you've got to hurry or that it's a life-or-death thing (well, it is in a way) that MUST be done NOW.  Take your time, be patient, and let Nature take its course.  If the heifer is really, really stubborn and nothing changes over a couple of weeks, consider culling the heifer, because chances are she may decide to abandon her next newborn again.

Other than that, good luck, and I hope you are successful in getting mom and baby together as they should. :)


P.S.: I had to edit this answer because the first time I wrote it I didn't have enough time to write out a good, lengthy answer.  Hopefully, this time, this answer will be better than the previous one you read.


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Karin L


Forage-Beef Extension Specialist. Knowledge in almost everything to do with beef and dairy cattle. Strong points include forage production, pasture and rangeland management, grazing management, breeding/calving/weaning, cattle genetics, breeds, feeding and nutrition, starting-up, and most physiological questions. I AM NOT A BOVINE VETERINARIAN; so please any questions that concern serious health of your cattle must be taken to your local large animal veterinarian.


Part of a farm family that bought, raised, and sold stocker/backgrounder steers; assisted with health management, handling, feeding, pasture management, and forage production. Also worked at local mixed-practice veterinary clinic. Experience with cattle included breeding soundness exams on bulls, castration, fixing prolapses, preg-checking, C-sections, calf pulling, vaccinations, etc. Worked at a local farm and ranch supply store selling medications and feed for livestock. Research assistant for the University of Alberta with range health assessments, and helping with various rangeland research projects. Always learning and gaining more experience as time goes on.

Alberta Farm Express Agri-News and Call of the Land (Alberta Agriculture)

BSc in Agriculture (Animal Science Major) @ University of Alberta, June 2015 graduate, but started studies in 2005. An Sci degree allowed me to specialize and gain significant knowledge in beef & dairy cattle production,animal behaviour and reproduction, ruminant nutrition, forage production/management, rangeland and pasture management & ecology, and plant identification.

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Various eef and forage producers in Alberta, CAN

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