Although fall is generally harvest time and not baby season, we've had some adorable little ones join our family this month, bringing both happiness and heartache. Our brood cow Lil usually has a calf each spring, but something happened and we noticed she came into heat around the first of the year. While that was a bit of a disappointment, she is getting to be pretty old, and things like that are part of life. We have been anxiously watching her and knew the time was getting close, but we let her stay our in the pasture. It's actually more sanitary to give birth outside if the weather cooperates, and Lil has had something like a dozen calves without assistance, so we weren't too worried that she would need help. Of course, when the day finally arrived, it was cold and wet. In the interest of giving the calf the best start possible we decided to bring them into the barn for a few days.
Dan had walked out to check on her on Wednesday, and sure enough there was a healthy calf on the ground, far up in the pasture. I was in the middle of canning some Apple Pie in a Jar jam, so I couldn't really drop what I was doing, so Dan and his brother Matt took the truck out into the pasture. They loaded the calf into the bed and put a lead rope on Lil. She didn't need any encouragement to follow along and kept an eye on the little one the whole way down. This was the first calf born since our bull matured, and he seemed protective as well, as he also followed the truck all the way down to the barn. While things like that can be a pain, it's good that he takes to the calves. We have a large population of coyotes locally, and having the bull keeping watch over the girls and their little ones is actually kind of nice. By this time, I was able to step away from the kitchen and was bedding down the stall. We were able to get Lil and her calf in the barn and shoo Bullwinkle back out, so all went well. The calf enjoyed his truck ride so much I decided to name him Ranger (after the truck). He's strong and healthy, and since the weather has warmed back up (our high yesterday was a balmy 75!) he and his mama are back out in the pasture with the rest of the herd, and both are doing fantastic.
We also had a litter of kittens born here lately, which has been the heartbreaking part. The mother cat has successfully raised kittens this spring, but this time, she seemed to just give up on the whole mothering job. She seemed to do a bit better when I wasn't around (her motherly hormones seem to make her want to cuddle up to me instead of the babies for some reason), so I'd lock her in the house with them anytime I was running errands or working outside. Still, after two of the four died, I realized I needed to step in and care for the kittens if they were to have any chance at making it. At that point, there was a black and white one who was very small and runty-looking and a grey tiger one who seemed a bit better off. I decided to start feeding them and warmed some milk and found a large syringe without a needle to use, since I don't have any baby bottles small enough for kittens. But the grey one was nowhere to be found. I couldn't believe the mother cared enough to move it, but it was gone. I searched outside, and listened for a crying, cold baby kitty to no avail. I locked her in overnight with her lone remaining kitten, which she ignored all night. Incredibly, in the morning, as I worked to get ready to open the farm stand for the day, I found the grey kitten on the front steps. It had somehow survived, alone, outside, on a night where our temperatures went down to 22 degrees. Unsurprisingly, it was cold and not doing well at all, but I got some warm milk into it and put it in the kitty bed next to the woodstove. It's been a frustrating weekend, as I've been feeding them every few hours, but watching the little black and white one fade away. It really never took to eating from me, and its mother ignores them completely now. I did the best I could, but it didn't make it. The grey kitty has a great appetite and bites at the syringe when I feed it, so I'm hoping that it continues to thrive. It's eating regularly and well, and naps contentedly without crying after a meal. I know there is never a shortage of cats anywhere, and I wasn't looking for kittens, but since they are here, I felt it is my duty to care for them as best as I can. Taking care of orphan critters is part of being a farmer, and even though our livelihood doesn't depend on kittens like it does lambs or calves, I'll do the best I can for this little one. So if you see me and I look a bit tired, it's probably from these every-4-hour feedings, which really don't make for a good night's sleep!