Mother’s Day for Mama Mabel

The calf from last week’s post is still alive, but not without a good deal of blood, sweat, tears, and vet expenses.

“He’s a dandy,” an old cattle rancher told us.

Translation: he’s a big, fine-looking calf.

But he wouldn’t nurse. We don’t know why.

He was separated from his mother for a short time. Maybe he couldn’t nurse, or maybe he was traumatized.

Then his mother, in pain, wouldn’t let him nurse.

I found him curled up in the tall grass the morning after he was born. His nose was cold, his eyes were rolling back in his head, and his mother was nowhere near. With my husband at work and helplessly unable to leave, I rushed to town to buy colostrum. The calf wouldn’t take the bottle. My mother-in-law came to help, and we got him to drink a pint of colostrum from a bowl – a relief, but hardly enough for that critical first 24 hours.

The colostrum didn’t sit right with his insides. He threatened to dehydrate before antibiotics could cure his “scours.” Mabel, smelling foreign milk, began to abandon her baby. Things looked pretty grim.

“Feed him his mother’s milk,” the old rancher said. “She’ll take him back, all right.”

Translation: We had to milk the cow.

We had never milked a cow, nor were we set up to milk a cow. The cow, for her part, probably had never been milked, either. She wouldn’t even let us near her.

Standing out in the freezing cold near midnight on the third night, waiting to pull a rusty chute gate closed, I began to think cattle ranching might be the end of us. Mabel didn’t want to go into the cattle chute. Mabel didn’t want to be milked. Mabel weighs appx. 1,200 pounds.

That third night, she lowered her head and charged. My husband leaped out of the way, onto the nearest round pen panel. Mabel caught his leg and pinned it there. I, not having any clue what to do, started clapping my hands and charging and yelling at Mabel. It was a fine moment. Mabel was a little bewildered at this behavior (perhaps she’d never seen this old cattle ranching trick), and she backed off to scratch her head in puzzlement. My husband, being astute, seized the opportunity to get out of the round pen.

We did feed the calf his mama’s milk. Never mind that we gave it to him through a tube inserted down his esophagus. Just as the rancher said, Mabel started sniffing her baby again, remembering him.

We milked and tube fed for nearly a week, watching for any sign that the calf would take over and nurse. There were high points: Junior got to experience milking a cow, laughing and aiming the stream of milk at his dad. Mabel liked the grain that she got when she was locked into the chute. The calf was perking up after each feeding.

But we couldn’t keep this up. We were getting up early, going to bed late, each time wondering whether we’d be able to get Mabel into the chute with everyone’s bones intact.

Yesterday, the day before Mother’s Day, I was feeling sleep-deprived, snippy, and overwhelmed with farm life.

I took my camera out for a couple final shots before writing a contemplative post about the sometimes long and helpless wait for God to heal families.

When I went out to take pictures, Mama Mabel was stamping her feet to shake off the flies. The calf was flicking flies off his ears. Flies were showing up in all my pictures.

I got the livestock fly spray and carefully opened the cattle gate, talking to Mabel in low tones… hoping she wouldn’t lower her head at me while I sprayed her, too.

The calf, roused by the spray, got up and ran to his mama. He butted her neck. He tried to nurse at the loose skin. This was new. He was just in the wrong place. He wandered to the water tank, sipping for a long time. I shooed him away, back to his mama.

And then…

With Mabel finally standing still, the calf figured it out.

Do you know… that calf was mad! Poor Mabel raised her leg to deter him, but the secret was out. The calf ducked under her and butted his head to let down the milk. He raced from side to side, frantic and happy, as if to say, “That’s where this has been! How could you have hidden it from me all that time?!”

Now he knows, and there’s no going back.

The waiting is over.

Happy Mother’s Day. Please pray today for someone who might be wishing the waiting was over in some way.

6 Responses to “Mother’s Day for Mama Mabel”
  1. Emily says:

    wow, amazing post. It made me laugh, it made me choke up. Loved reading and loved your pictures!

  2. Mom says:

    Wow, Debbie. Over the top …. again. And I’m so glad he figured it out! For them, but honestly, mostly for you. Good job, though, with sticking to it with the little guy till he did.

  3. Julie says:

    Love it! You tell the story so well, both with pictures and with words.

  4. Karen Wolfe says:

    Delightful, Debbie, in all respects. You all made some memories!

  5. Agreed! The pictures- the story- truly wonderful post!

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