Grafting a Calf to a Cow
We are trying something new for us once again. We purchased a small Jersey bull calf with the intent of grafting him onto the newest of our Red Poll Cows. A Red Poll excels at milk production due to the fact that they are dual purpose cattle. I began the process of researching the process of grafting a calf to a cow. I have a little basic knowledge, so I am well aware that it is supposed to be much more difficult than simply sticking the calf in with the cow.
The first question is, why would somebody need to try grafting a calf to a cow who is not that calf’s mother? There are many reasons. The first reason is that it sometimes happens that a cow loses her calf at birth, while another cow in the herd dies during, or shortly after giving birth. The cow without a calf is primed and ready to raise a calf, while the calf is in need of care. Another reason for grafting a calf to a cow is to move a twin from a mother cow to a different cow because raising a twin may be difficult on one cow. A third reason is to move a calf from a thin, older cow due to her poor body condition. This allows the older cow to fatten up a bit before being culled. In our case, we are simply trying to use the great milk production of Red Poll cattle to our advantage. We are adding an additional bull calf into the herd for $20 up front cost.
Should this experiment work, it should be a good way to increase the production of our farming enterprise. We added the calf for nothing more than $20. We did not have to pay for a cow, buy semen, nor feed a cow for 9 months simply to get a calf. I am not saying that this is the way to go, but it is an opportunity for us. We strive to have pure bred Red Poll Cattle that we can raise on pasture and produce a great product in the end. The Jersey calf will not likely grade out as well as our Red Poll calves when he reaches mature weight, but the input is worth the risk. This also gives us a trial run, which may allow us to diversify into meadow veal. If all was planned, and worked, accordingly; we could add a Jersey for every Red Poll calf born in the spring. These Jersey calves would be raised along with their new Red Poll mothers and their Red Poll calves. Since the grass is rapidly growing in the spring, we would capitalize on the natural cycle of our area. Once the Jersey calves were 3 or 4 months old, we would simply remove them and sell them as meadow veal. At this point, the grass would not be growing as well, but we have reduced some of the need for extra grass by removing several animals. Another advantage is that we would create an additional revenue stream at a different point in the year (Summer).
Now we need to discuss the process of grafting a calf to a cow. Our first attempt and method is to simply introduce the “orphan” calf to the cowhand her new calf. We are going to pen the three of them in to a smaller pen and monitor to make certain that the “orphan” calf is not injured. I also plan to try to rub some of the placenta and the embryonic fluids onto the hide of the new calf. This will possibly signal the Mother cow that this is her baby as well. Cows identify their calves by smell immediately after giving birth.
Another method that is described is to run vicks vapor cream onto the nose of the mother cow and the body of the baby calf. This serves to confuse the mama cow. She then will likely take the new baby as her own. The most reliable method for grafting a calf onto a new cow is not available to us. It seems that if the mother cow gives birth to a dead calf, the best method is to skin the dead calf. The hide of the dead calf is now placed onto the orphan baby like a coat on a person. Once the cow takes to the calf, the hide is removed. This method is tried an true according to old farmer, however it seems a bit crude to me. I guess it makes sense.
In our case, we actually tried to just put the calf in with the new mom. Her calf was very lethargic and slow to come around. The new Jersey calf was very lively. Some people choose to tie the legs of the lively calf in order to simulate the less energetic calf. Since the Jersey calf was very lively, the mother cow did not take to kindly to the calf. She was kept head butting him. He did manage to get away unscathed.
The next thing that I tried was to place a piece of the placenta onto the Jersey calf. I could tell that the mother took a little bit more interest, but she was still locked on to her own natural calf. Eventually, we got the mother calf out of the pen and she managed to get herself into the self-locking head locks. At this point, I took the Jersey bull calf over to begin grafting the calf onto the mother cow. She gave one mild kick at the calf and he did not really know what to do at this point. He kept following me, as he was used to taking a bottle. I took his head and placed it near her teat and then worked her teat into his mouth. He began sucking vigorously and she seemed to not mind very much. It probably felt very good to her to have all of that pressure relieved from her udder.
It will be interesting to see if she takes the calf on as her own from this point forward. Hopefully she still recognizes her own calf.