The Older Brother Gets a Side Order of Veal

Hi again, fellow Fat Heads.

Tom and Chareva and the girls made it into Springfield this past weekend for visits and the Naughton family Christmas dinner Monday night, before heading to Chicago on Christmas Eve to see Chareva’s family.  Since they’re still traveling, and I had an interesting addendum to my “Yankee Farm Report,” I figured Tom wouldn’t mind if I temporarily commandeered the Big Chair again.

No politics or economics this time, I promise!

Anyway, this past Monday morning, I got a call from Linda — our endlessly patient farm owner where our beef cows and meat chickens are boarded.  It went like this:

Linda: Jerry, you know how you always said that one of your two cows always was fuller-bodied than her sister?

Me: Yeah — Tartare.  What’s up?

Linda: Well, she had a calf last night!

Me: HOLY $%*!

This was not expected news, and complicated from several angles.  When we purchased the cows and brought them to Linda’s, we thought they were too young to be fertile.  Cows have about a 9 month gestation period, however, and when we did the math we figure she must’ve just been bred within a week or so prior to getting her.  Another issue was these are beef cows — they were bought in the late Spring with the initial intention of having them ready to be butchered next Fall, but they were so big that we’d moved that up to probably the end of January. We’ve got four other families cow-sharing on this deal, so that means everyone has to agree on how to play this new development.

The most immediate issue, however, and one that could make the rest moot, was that cows aren’t supposed to have calves in the middle of winter, especially on what was one of the coldest days of this season.  Linda’s husband saw Tartare laying in the field Monday morning and thought she’d died, then saw the calf laying on the ground and thought they were both dead.  Once they figured out both were still alive, they got the calf (and then Tartare to follow) into a barn, but she was very cold, not moving around, and Linda didn’t think she’d nursed, which is critical.

I headed over right away, picking up some colostrum from the farm store in case she was going to need to be bottle-fed.  I was able to hold her up (cold and messy work in my office clothes) while Linda worked a bottle into her mouth, but she wasn’t suckling or swallowing.  At that point, Linda thought it looked like maybe she did have milk already in her, but it was hard to tell.  We got her to lay upright a bit, and I had to leave, but I told Linda I’d come back early afternoon with a couple of heat lamps she thought might help.

When I got back (with The Wife), the calf was stiff and on her side again —


We got more heat lamps set up, and I was able to pick the calf up and get the straw under her and around her. She didn’t seem out of the woods, but was moving her head around some more.


Linda kept checking on calve and cow, and fortunately the weather warmed up quickly over the last couple of days. The Oldest Son, my brother-in-law, and I went out today, and things are looking much better. The calf is walking around in the yard behind the barn, nursing, and Tartare is watching over her closely.

Everyone in on our cow-share deal seems pretty happy with the unexpected disruption in our beef supply. So far, given that she had a successful, unassisted, healthy birth, it’s looking like Tartare may get a role change from beef cow to breeder.

In the meantime, the reason The Oldest Son and brother-in-law were with me today was because the events of the week switched a “we ought to maybe do that” project into a “we need to get this done NOW” project. There was a hoop structure in the cow’s pasture that the old vinyl cover had disintegrated off of over time. Linda and I had talked about getting a new cover put back on it. Cows are pretty hardy as far as cold temperatures are concerned, but getting wet — from rain or snow — and being in the wind can be deadly. A new calf in the middle of winter introduced a real sense of urgency to the idea.

So we pulled some of the old cover back up —

— which didn’t help much, but it gave our rookie three-man farmhand crew a feel for what we were doing.

Linda had a “new” cover — they’re used billboard vinyls that you can purchase — that the three of us were able to manhandle up and over the structure, then tack down with screws driven through lath strips we wrapped into the bottom seam of the vinyl.

Cows are both curious and bashful by nature, and Linda’s dairy cows and Royale (our more chaste beef cow) kept walking up to the shelter while it was under construction and standing on the vinyl until we’d shoo them away long enough to get a couple more strips screwed down. We were pretty pleased with our work once we got it done…

… And to a cow, add a little straw and this looks just like a Ritz Carlton…

Hope you all had a great Christmas, and best wishes for a Happy New Year!

The Older Brother


9 thoughts on “The Older Brother Gets a Side Order of Veal

  1. Jean

    We have a similar story. We bought six female alpacas last May. They were not supposed to be pregnant. One had a cria before we brought them home in May. We also had a curiously wide-body one. She surprised us with a late afternoon cria on the 19th of December, still wet as the temperature was dropping into the 20’s. He would have died if we hadn’t found him. He spent his first two nights in the house. He’s now romping around the pasture sporting a fashionable dog coat. Congratulations on your surprise calf!

    I always wondered what kind of sweaters alpacas wear when it gets cold!


  2. Shannon

    Oh man, that is cute. I know I’m a total hypocrite, but this is why I’ll never be able to raise my own meat. If I had to do it myself, I’d be a (very unhappy and unhealthy) vegetarian.

    I don’t think that’s uncommon now. The Wife would always stop me when I was pointing out which of the cows on Linda’s pasture where ours.

    Like much else these days, “uncommon” now was the norm only a generation or two ago. Almost anyone over forty or fifty probably heard stories of their mom or grandma going out into the yard to get a chicken for Sunday dinner.

    The Oldest Son and Linda and I butchered four of our meat chickens last week as a test run since we’d never done it before (four down, fort-six to go). It’s not enjoyable, but it wasn’t bad, either. The Oldest Son remarked that he’d never thought much of ordering twenty wings at the local sports bar, but this experience made him much more appreciative.

    The Older Brother

  3. Elenor

    “No politics or economics this time, I promise!”

    Awww. too bad!

    However, congrats on the miraculous birth, grandad! Teach a man to fis…. er… teach a cow to produce more cows and you’ll eat for a lifetime!

    I’m the student here, not the teacher!


    1. Walter Bushell

      Much better to be a vegetable farmer, you can go south for the winter, for example and you don’t have nearly so many critical things that have to be attended to *right* *now*.

      True, but then you wouldn’t know where your chicken and beef came from…

      The Older Brother

      1. Walter Bushell

        My beef usually comes from Australia, certified organic and grass fed. Seems to be cheaper than buying local. There is something weird about economics, which produces weird behavior.

        It would be interesting to see what subsidies/policies make that more profitable. The Oldest Son had a good friend move to Australia with her fiance, and the cost of living is higher than here. Maybe super-cheap/open range for grazing?

        Perhaps one of our friends from down under can cast some light on it?

        The Older Brother

  4. Lori Miller

    Aw, she looks just like her mom. So is her name going to be Veal?

    The Wife is calling her Noel, since she was a Christmas season surprise. I’m not keen on the idea of giving animals you’re going to eat cute names.


  5. Erica

    I thought when I saw the title and the first pic of the baby in the straw, that this was going to end with her in the freezer. The shadows on that pic are red, and I thought she was bleeding out!

    Glad to see she survived and everyone is thriving. Take some pics of the cows in the ‘new’ shelter, ok?

    Sorry — I think the red glow was either from the flash detector on the camera or reflection off of the heating lamps.

    A couple of the cows walked through the shelter while we were getting it covered, but we were too busy lugging the cover around to break for photos. One of the cows did go over and give the camera a lick before The Oldest Son moved it outside the fence!

    We’ll get some soon though, and I’ll do an update.


  6. Tami

    Kiwi dairy farmer here. Calves are pretty robust as long as you can keep them dry. Cold isnt so bad for them, although you wouldnt leave them out in it all day. We have some pretty cold mornings when calving starts, so the first few can get born in -5C or lower if theres a hoarfrost. I’ve lost more calves that were born when it was raining, than any other weather event.

    I dint work it out, is the mother a 2 or 3 year old?

    For future reference, the way to tell if a calf has any milk in its system, is to poke your index fingers into each side of her abdomen, midway between ribs and hips, and see if your fingers touch at the tips. If yes, its empty, if theres a gap of around an inch, its eaten something.

    We had a few well-timed nice days in the 40’s (F) here, but now we’r heading back into a week of teens and 20’s, with wind chills to minus 5-10 (F).

    We thought the mother was maybe 8 or 9 months old when we got her in April, but she’s under 2 years old.

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll pass it on to Linda this week.

    The Older Brother


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