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The Story of the Snowstorm Calf

by Guest Blogger, Terrell Davis, County Extension Agent – Pike County

Terrell Davis, Cooperative Extension Agent in Pike County, Arkansas with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service

Cattlemen and women are dedicated to caring for their herd, and winter management presents many challenges. Terrell Davis is the Cooperative Extension Agent in Pike County, Arkansas. He is also a cattleman. Davis joins us to tell the story of nurturing a newborn calf during last week’s winter snowstorm. 





Extension in Action - Pike County

On March 11th, I left for work and noticed a heifer separated from the rest of the herd. Cattlemen know this is a sign she might be going into labor soon. Heifers are prone to dystocia, defined as difficult or prolonged labor. That morning we knew we had a special patient on our hands. I called my Dad to let him know to check on her during his morning rounds of feeding and checking the cows. He replied, “it's probably #15.” He had been keeping his eye on her for a few days. By mid-morning, he had sent me a picture of Momma #15 with her new calf. She was working on getting the new addition cleaned up while learning how to transition from the heifer-crew to the mom-herd.

Around noon it started to snow the biggest flakes I had ever seen. Within minutes, temperatures plummeted from the mid-50s to the low 30s. Like most of the cattlemen in Arkansas, I was at my day job, and the cattle were doing the best they could with the resources available. Snow began accumulating quickly, and my wife sent a picture of the little white calf covered in snow. Her accompanying text expressed that she was concerned. I decided to leave work early. When I pulled into the drive, I saw our new addition laid in the pasture, with no mom in sight. The mom's instincts to seek protection were stronger than her maternal instincts.

I rushed to the house to get some help from my son and wife. My wife was already on the job with fresh hay and a heat lamp in the side shed, that used to be a shelter for our hair sheep. Caring for this newborn calf became a family mission. I got my son, and we took off to get the calf. As a side note, he drove, and I opened the gates. I thought he would be the gate opener much longer than it turned out. 

To my surprise, when we got to the calf, Mom #15 had remembered her new title. She had regained her maternal instincts and was ready to fight us off, thinking we were predators. While it was just the County Agent and his retired Dad, we probably appeared to be an amateur rodeo clown act as we loaded the calf into the back of the Jeep.

Jerri Beth Davis bottle feeding a calf, bedded down in hay with a warming lamp.

LATCH LESSONS — Jeri Beth Davis, wife of Terrell Davis, working to teach the newborn calf to latch. 

When we got the baby home, we realized just how weak she was. There was no way that Mom #15 could have gotten this baby dry in the frigid weather. It was obvious that the newborn had never latched on to mom. My wife was ready to care for the calf, with a warm bed to lie in and a bottle of colostrum to feed. This baby needed nutrition in her belly, and we struggled to get the calf to figure out how her tongue works. 

After many attempts, we decided to take a break from latch lessons and focus on keeping the calf warm. Our makeshift shed soon turned into a calf salon, as we used a hairdryer to keep the baby warm. Looks like hairdryers do the trick for cold calves! 

Terrell Davis using a hairdryer to warm a newborn calf, on a bed of hay in a barn.
CALF SALON — Terrell Davis, Pike County Extension Agent, dries the storm-born calf with a hairdryer to keep it warm during its first hours of life.

As bedtime approached, we decided to continue the bottle lesson. We carried the calf inside the house and placed her in the laundry room. Our corgi was suspicious of this new baby in his space. After we finally got the calf to feed, we fed ourselves, eventually found our beds, and retired for the night.

The next morning, in true Arkansas-weather fashion, the sun was shining. The promise of much warmer weather was on the horizon. We took the baby back to the pasture and reunited her with Mom #15 and the rest of the extended family. At first, #15 wasn’t quite sure why this little critter was following her every move. Soon she began to smell and then lick the calf until she concluded that this baby belongs to her. Heifers can be frustrating on a sunny, warm day. Add in the chaos of an untimely snowstorm and the farm begins to resemble the bread and milk aisle of the local grocery store. 

 Newborn calf suckling momma cow in a snow-covered field in Pike County, Arkansas.
REUNITED — The calf and Mom #15 were reunited as the snow melted on a warm winter day in Arkansas.

In the end, this is nothing new to anyone who takes on the responsibility of being a herdsman. Every family with cattle has been through multiple incidents just like ours. The wellbeing of our livestock ranks very high on our list. It’s more than our livelihood, it's our way of life, and one that we love down to our souls. After a long stressful night, there is nothing better than a happy reunion. It’s a great reminder that anything worth having will cost a little time and sweat.