It’s calving seasons at Vastrap! Since the end of July little babies have been arriving all over the place keeping Quentin, Abraham, Tshidiso and Molantwa very busy recording each birth and checking to see that there aren’t any problems.
We have three different types of calves at Vastrap. The naturally bred Angus and Boran calves and the Boran embryo calves born to surrogate mothers. For the natural breeding season the cows are with the bulls for about three months between December and February – about 3 bulls to every 100 cows. A cow’s gestation period is the same as a woman so the calves are born between the end of July and October. The timing of the breeding season is determined by the fact that we are a summer rainfall area so the grazing is better from October through to March. Also, our winters are very severe so a cow cannot raise a calf in the harsh months of May to July. While food is still scarce in August and September, the newly harvested maize fields provide an extra source of sustenance.
This was the first Angus calf born this season. Its mother had bottle teats so it could not suckle properly. The mother had to be milked by hand to reduce the swelling so that the calf could get his mouth around the teats.
Embryo calves are born throughout the year depending on when the surrogate mother is implanted with an embryo. Using embryos allows us to increase the size of the Boran herd more quickly, but we only use cows with the best genetics to ensure that the quality of the herd improves over time (see The Boran: God’s Gift to Cattlemen). In the past one could only multiply the best genetics through the sire by using artificial insemination (AI), however advances in embryo technology now allow dam genetics to be propagated too. Embryo technology is a lot more complicated and expensive so it is used only with really top genetics.
This weekend I helped Quentin to check on the embryo calves being born and to document them. For each new calf we take down its mother’s number, date of birth, sex, colour and weight. The new babies are so cute and soft! It is quite funny how they look so different from their mothers. Some of the calves are full brother and sister because the embryos came from the same sire and dam.
Things don’t always go according to plan. On Saturday evening we found a little calf that had fallen into an aardvark hole. The poor little thing would have died if we hadn’t been there and hadn’t got out of the car to look around. It was getting dark so the photos aren’t that good, but he was really squashed in there!
His mother also had an injury to her leg, but she ran away when we had saved the calf. We spent about half an hour trying to herd her back to the calf so that she would bond with him and feed him, but she kept running away on her funny leg. In total frustration Quentin said this is where the saying “stupid cow” comes from!
Early on Sunday morning we went back to check on the calf and took a bottle of milk with in case it had been abandoned. He seemed fine and warm, but his mother was nowhere to be seen. We tried to chase her back towards the calf, but she didn’t want anything to do with him. Just in case we fed him the milk and tried again to get her to go to him. We’ll only know tomorrow whether this mission succeeded. At least she was standing close to him when we left, but she still didn’t seem that interested and we hadn’t actually seen him drink from her. These things sometimes happen when heifers calf for the first time. They just need a little bit of help to learn how to be good mothers.