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Adventures in Raising a Pineywoods Bottle Calf



Photo by Karsten Wurth. Image used with permission.




The white pickup truck hauling the rusted red livestock trailer behind it came up our gravel drive. It was a sunny day in early March, and the goats were grazing in the nearby fields. I went outside to meet a man who was making a trade with me: six rare heirloom Chocolate turkeys for an equally rare heirloom breed calf––a Pineywoods.


She was a pretty little thing, sitting in the back of the livestock trailer. Her brown head was up, ears pricked, and her huge dark eyes were looking at me. Her body was slim, and leopard spotted with brown on white. She looked healthy, and cute as a button.

I went back to the driver's side of the pickup and spoke with the owner of the calf.


“She’s a sweet little thing,” I said. “It’s a shame it’s not working out with her mother.”


My love affair with cows has been a long one. Every time I do a cross-country road trip, it’s always the cattle and the wildlife that I stop for. There’s just something calm and enjoyable about watching cattle graze. I appreciate their role in our lives and their adaptability. It’s also a hoot when they moo at you.


I climbed into the livestock trailer and approached the calf with a gentle voice. She got up and tried to run from me, but I captured and lifted her. I carried her out of the trailer and hefted the small but heavy calf up in my arms before carrying her across my yard to our barn. She was heavier than I thought she would be with her long-legged, lanky build. She didn’t struggle too much, but she put her ears back as if annoyed, and watched me with her dark, liquid brown eyes framed with beautiful, thick black eyelashes. Her expression seemed to be: “What the heck are you doing with me?” She was three weeks old, and this entire experience was new to her.


I set her down in her stall, and we looked at one another, both of us not sure what to expect. I noticed she smelled like milk and some sweet youthful cow scent I hadn’t encountered before. I was concerned that she had not yet been trained to eat from a bottle and I didn’t like the idea of tubing a young calf to feed them even if it needed to be done. She shied away from me, her ears trembling, and I took a step back to give her space and make her feel more comfortable. She turned her head to me, ears up with curiosity, big brown eyes watching everything.


Later on, we named her Clover.


I had researched Clover’s breed, and I knew that Pineywoods cattle are remarkable domestic animals with a storied history who are in danger of extinction. The Spanish originally brought Pineywoods like Clover to our continent in the 1500s, and they come in a variety of colors. Pineywoods cattle have survived with little human contact in the insect-infested, brushy, humid, predator-ridden, and rugged country of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi for over 500 years.


They are tough animals, with valuable parasite resistance in our sub-tropical environment in Mississippi. Pineywoods are unique among cattle for their ability to browse on young trees and brush, much like goats. As a heritage breed, they are a harbor of rare traits and genetics that are too valuable to let disappear. So when I got the chance to raise a bottle calf of this rare and exceptional cattle breed, it offered me a special opportunity I couldn’t say no to.


I rely on science, and I had read up on my science-backed calf rearing to care for little Clover. It helps too that I have a background in caring for and rehabilitating various animals, including cattle, and completed a Bachelor of Science in Pre-Vet & Animal Science. With this background, I knew that when raising any bottle calf, it’s important to ensure they receive proper nutrition with a milk replacer designed for calves. As a calf grows, offer it clean water, hay, and pasture to support its health and development. And much kindness and patience. It needs social contact with other cows. If the temperature drops below 50 F, they need a blanket to keep them warm. Shelter from predators is a must for a lone calf, who has few to no defenses at this age besides being absolutely adorable.


One of the fun parts about raising a bottle calf is watching a calf’s playful antics and gentle nature. It’s also a great time to build trust and start some simple training, like getting the calf used to human touch and wearing a halter. By raising a Pineywoods bottle calf, I think that I'm not only fostering a unique bond but also contributing to preserving agricultural heritage and biodiversity, even in a small way.


It’s all not facts and science, however. While I was bottle feeding Clover, I couldn’t help but smile as she sucked down her formula. It was also hard to keep myself emotionally distanced from her as she finished, and then nosed my hip and sucked on my t-shirt, her fuzzy little tail swishing back and forth with enthusiasm as she looked up at me.

 

 

 

Author’s Note:

This article was written to the best of my knowledge and research. The resources used are below. If there are any errors, email me at mfifewrites [at] gmail [dot] com, and I will correct them. Thank you for reading.

 




References:

1. “Pineywoods Cattle.” The Livestock Conservancy, https://livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/pineywoods

 

2. National Research Council. “Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle: Seventh Revised Edition.” National Academies Press, 2001.

 

 

4. “Definition of Heritage Cattle”. The Livestock Conservancy. https://livestockconservancy.org/heritage-cattle-definition/

 

 

6. Carroll H. SDSU Extension: BEEF, Chapter 6, Low-Stress Handling Basics. 2020. https://extension.sdstate.edu/sites/default/files/2021-05/S-0013-06.pdf

 

7. Cattle Handling Tips - Why Low Stress? [video]. NationalBQA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTOeDkuw1ic

 

 

9. “Agricultural Biodiversity.” Convention on Biological Diversity. https://www.cbd.int/agro/default.shtml

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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