Thieves

by ELLA MAE HOWARD

Folks who make their living tending to cattle are good observers. They notice the little things, a buck deer that has been around forever, a robin who, year in year out, builds her nest above the shop door. They will know spring is just around the corner when they see a Killdeer running up and down the road to the cattle’s feeding ground.

And they know about the thieves. The thieves who don’t bother to tie a black scarf over their faces. Thieves who don’t bother to slip around a rock pile or hide in a dark place before launching their attack. These thieves are not like a dirty, stinking skunk who only works at night.

They do their thievery in broad daylight. They don’t care who sees them, and if they get caught, they just stand back and wait for the next opportunity.

These four-legged thieves are calves looking for a bag full of milk with four spigots.

Sometimes they steal milk because their mother might be a first-calf heifer and not have enough milk to satisfy their appetite, or their mother might be an older cow who has plenty of milk, but, like a kid who grabs an extra cookie after dinner, they just steal milk because it’s there for the taking.

Older cows are pretty savvy to the ways of these thieves and will kick them off. But a really good thieving calf will attach himself to another calf, and when his friend starts nursing its mother, he simply slides in behind the old cow and grabs a spigot between her hind legs. An orphaned calf or twin who has gone undetected can survive using this strategy.

First-calf heifers are another story. Sometimes they will be more aggressive in managing who gets their milk, but often they let anybody and everybody nurse them. It’s a free for all, nurse whatever bag is handy. In the end all the calves get enough milk to survive and grow.

The best thief we ever had on our feed ground belonged to a smaller, 2-year-old heifer who, for whatever reason, just did not have much milk. She got plenty to eat, cake and hay and good spring water, but her bag was always small.

In a matter of a few minutes during feeding, her calf would get milk from two or three other heifers. He was aggressive, and, if he got kicked off, he would head to another heifer, stick his head between her legs, and get her milk. By the time summer came, this calf was one of biggest in the bunch, darn near as big as his natural mother. MSN

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