Alone with a herd of full grown, pregnant cows, one last young heifer remained in our Mountain field. Her name is Shirley, and Shirley has had a rough start to her short life. Like Willow, she was orphaned at a very young age but unlike Willow, Shirley has been fending for herself ever since. She managed to survive without Mama’s milk for most of her calf-hood, leaving her sporting a pot belly from lack of proper nutrition. And to make matters worse, she was cruelly struck with pink eye late last summer, taking the sight from her left eye.
I am not sure of Shirley’s age, but am guessing she was probably born in May or June, so is about 8-9 months old. She is small for her age, and with sight in only her right eye, has grown particularly wary.
As cows will do, Shirley was on the bottom rung of the pecking order in the wild herd and then again with the combined herd. The grown cows and even the other heifers would push her away from the sweet grain, and she was always at the end of the line of unrolled hay. After we moved Mahalia and Aretha to the South field with our other heifers, Shirley was left alone with the grown cows. Day after day, we tried to entice her into the corral with grain and hay, but the cows would always push her away. She may be very smart or perhaps not so much, but either way needed to be with the younger heifers to have a chance to thrive. I was getting worried we would never catch her and began contemplating using a dart gun and tranquilizer.
During feeding, I noticed that when we put a bale of hay in a ring, the cows would gather round to feed, crowding out the Shirley and a few others. So this past week, we didn’t feed hay on Thursday and by Friday, everyone was hungry. After adding a bale to the ring, we unrolled a good amount inside the corral and watched from the tractor. Shirley came up to the corral with a couple other cows. Sure enough, the cows crowded into the corral, head bumping Shirley to keep her outside. Using the tractor, we guided Shirley around the corral then I hopped down to steer one of the cows out of the way. Backing off again, we waited and watched. Before too long, Shirley snuck into the corral with her head down focused on eating hay. I slipped up to the opening and quietly pulled the panel closed. Three cows, one older heifer and Shirley were captured!
Success! I was elated knowing that now Shirley would finally have the chance to be spoiled and to thrive. We switched tractors, and hooked up the trailer. In order to keep everyone calm and to separate Shirley for loading, we divided the corral in half using polywire and step-in posts, cows on one side and Shirley on the other near the alleyway. Five minutes later, Shirley was heading to the South field to join the rest of the young heifers.
Almost immediately, Shirley was a different heifer. Her whole demeanor changed from nervous and jumpy to calm and engaged. Mahalia and Aretha stuck close beside her, happy to be together again with their cousin. Willow was glad to have another member of the herd who was her size, and who had a similar start in life. Later that first afternoon, Shirley was happily eating her first snack of sweet grain, without any interruption from full grown cows bumping and pushing her away from the trough.
A good day on the farm!