The day the fresh came down Lagoon Creek, we found a calf sleeping next to his dead mother. It was impossible to tell why she died. There were no marks on the damp ground, no signs of a struggle. Though we’d had thunder storms the previous day, she didn’t look like she’d been struck by lightning. We’ve seen that before. It looked like she had just dropped dead where she lay on the hillside. Like much of death, a mystery.
The calf ran off when we came near. I followed him as he wandered down to the softly flowing creek, calling all the while for his mother.
Eventually, he returned to her body. He suckled at her teats although he’d already drunk all of her milk. He rubbed himself against her and walked all around her, very close. It was beyond poignant and very sad.
I sat and watched him for a long time until my husband came back in the vehicle. At about three to four weeks old, the calf proved too big and strong to catch. By then it was too late in the day to try anything else, so we left him to spend the night on the hill with his mother. We named him Johnny.
The next morning it was hard to get Johnny to leave her side. So my husband sprayed him with an identifying flash of yellow paint and, using a bale of hay as an incentive, we brought a big mob of cows and calves together around him. Swept up with the herd, the calf followed the mob down the valley.
On the first attempt he went only half way before he turned back and returned to his mother. The second time we assembled a bigger mob and eventually got him all the way to the yards.
We were very pleased with ourselves when we managed to get him to suck from the bottle. At his age, received wisdom in the bush is that he’s too old to take to bottle feeding and that the only possibility would be to try to get him to drink calf milk replacer out of a bucket. This is usually a long process, requiring him to get both very hungry and very thirsty. And buckets are easily kicked over. Much better to get him on to the bottle.
At first he just bit down on the teat, so hard I couldn’t even squirt it to give him a taste. So we tried our special trick for relaxing and soothing animals. My husband massaged Johnny’s head and I massaged his jaws and mouth, inside and out, especially his gums. It worked a treat. Here he is having his first bottle.
We kept him in the yards for a couple of days, then let him into the home paddock. The first afternoon there he escaped through the fence. We found him up the valley with some calves and their mothers. So we fed him there and didn’t bring him back until the next morning. This time we put him in the garden. But it was clear he was very lonely and unhappy. He stayed looking out into the Lemon Tree Paddock all day, waiting for other calves to come and communicate with him through the fence. So my husband let him out and he went off, kicking up his back heels with joy.
So Johnny lives with the herd. We walk out and find him for his morning and evening feeds, calling his name. He comes running. It’s working out perfectly this way.