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Bottle calves have raised ranch kids since the beginning of time

March 19, 2021

Convincing livestock to scale the front steps and venture into the living room is another highlight in the bottle-calf child’s experience.

By: Rebecca Bearden

You hope you only have one each year, but you mentally prepare for whatever the season brings. You know for certain that each will have his or her own personality not soon forgotten, along with that signature cocktail of milk replacer and calf saliva coating your jacket sleeves and blue jeans.

Bottle calves have been raising ranch kids since the beginning of time. And each has been a mostly patient instructor of the aforementioned humans. The calves that raised me and Rachel were endowed with an extra dose of creative tolerance.

We had a propensity for dressing up animals—cats, dogs, ponies—and the bottle calves were no exception. Any discarded garments intended for grease rags in the barn were just asking for a calf fashion show. You’d be surprised how well those calves sported already ripped chore coats and dingy sweaters from the 1980s.

But our imaginations didn’t stop there. Calves were also subject to various timed events. Hitching our favorite Charolais calf “Charlie” to the Radio Flyer wagon seemed like a good idea. Though short-lived, we still considered it a success. After all, any front-end damage sustained on that rusty red unit was barely discernible considering the downhill “pasture slalom” it had been previously subjected to. There’s nothing like the jar of hitting a terrace just when you’ve reached max speed.

The challenge of bringing any of our animals into the ranch house was always an extra treat for me and Rachel considering Daddy’s ban on “inside pets.” My sister’s pony Bubba was the most famous of the “inside jobs.” We waited until the parents were both gone, led him into the living room, and then took pictures as proof. Having to wait for that roll to be developed was the longest two weeks of our lives. I’m pretty sure we fessed up during the interim. I really thought we’d done a good job of removing any hay or manure evidence.

Shetland ponies are one challenge, but convincing livestock to scale the front steps and venture into the living room is another highlight in the bottle-calf child’s experience. We took advantage of the fact that those calves would follow a bottle anywhere. Lest you think this trick ever gets old, we did it again last calving season with Tua. That sweet steer was so trusting he walked right into the front door. What we did not account for was the extra slick hardwood floor. As soon as Tua’s sharp hooves left the saddle blanket “rug” for the hardwood, he was down on all fours. We picked him up and let him explore the front porch until he decided it was a great place to deposit his breakfast.

This year’s lucky trainer is named Taffy. She’s been teaching JB a few life hacks during her bottle time. One is to maintain high standards. She demands breakfast in bed even when that means feeding her horizontal in the hay ring. Interestingly, Taffy has shown more interest in grain than the bottle lately. Perhaps word got out that she might have to wear old sweaters while pulling a little red wagon.