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Some calves are born to lead herd-mates straight into trouble

Rebecca Bearden rebecca-bearden-lil-punkin.jpg
Baby Punkin's the one with the white face.
This calf had no concept of an open gate, no idea why I was speed-walking around him, no clue who the approaching thundering herd was, and no interest in being a part of this story any longer.

“Contraction Corner” is the moniker my sister dubbed an outcrop of woods adjacent to the pasture next to the ranch house, popular among the young cows as labor and delivery central. This one section offers the protection of big hardwood trees, walking distance to water, and plenty of space for pacing, especially for expectant mothers.

In fact, Rachel herself took more than a few laps in this sacred space one hot July afternoon when soon-to-be baby Gary was creating disturbance from the womb. The generations of mama cows who labored before obviously brought good luck—Gary was born just a few hours later. Albeit in a hospital.

Fast forward a couple of months at Contraction Corner, and Rachel happened upon the first calf of this season. This particular overachiever mom had calved over a month early last year prior to Rachel’s sorting and disbursal of expectant mothers to other pastures. This cow had firm plans again this year not to leave the “young cow” pasture. Though the sire of this early baby was a mystery at first (since the calf sported a solid white face, and both parents were assumed to be straight Angus in origin), sis then remembered that her beloved Sim-Angus bull Punkin had escaped into the pasture with this cow during breeding season, initiating his mischievous but clever offspring.

Given the timing, baby Punkin and his mom were reassigned to the first-calf heifer pasture for the foreseeable future. Soon joined by low-birth-weight cohorts, baby Punkin was proud to show the other calves how to “calf.”

His influence as a positive role model has yet to be determined. Early antics may not be in his favor but at least have a theme--curiosity combined with the ability to place one’s body through structures designed to deter entry. Baby Punkin seems intent on clenching this calf hallmark.

I was checking the heifers late one evening and noticed his white-faced self merrily exploring the pasture on the opposite side of the fence. Granted, he would have probably jumped back through the fence without assistance, but the sun was sinking quickly, and I didn’t want him to remain at large after dark. He appeared to be wrapping up his foray in favor of dinner time, but his attempts to reverse his security breach as he walked slowly uphill along the fence weren’t getting him to mama fast enough. The unconcerned but still watchful mama was in sight (likely enjoying the small break) and grazing her way in the same direction as the gate.

“This is the perfect setup,” I thought. “I can swing the gate open and he’ll walk right through once he reaches the top of the hill.”

What I had failed to factor in was the presence of the notorious Hebes in this adjacent pasture. Accustomed to being moved often and rewarded for such action, these ladies associated the sound of a gate creaking with immediate grain deposition.

They gave the alarm call in spite of my attempt to quietly walk the gate open and immediately came running full speed toward me. I quickly calculated their approach time with the current location of the calf and honestly thought I could “beat them to it” if I eased behind the calf and encouraged him to walk just a few feet uphill to the open gate.

Bad idea. This calf had no concept of an open gate, no idea why I was speed-walking around him, no clue who the approaching thundering herd was, and no interest in being a part of this story any longer.

Thanks be to God, instead of bolting in the opposite direction, he made a miraculous leap through four strands of barbed wire and ran directly to his original destination—his mama. The stress of the situation combined with the need to nurse superseded any kind of “missed you, mom” communication.

Perhaps the trauma made a lasting impression—at least partially. To date, the only violation he’s been guilty of is breaking and entering the hay ring. Innocent enough…that is until his young charges become too large to exit of their own volition. I can’t wait to see what his crew does to the creep feeder.

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