Bandit Eyes: The calf who lived in our bathroom
Calves in the kitchen were a fact of life our children grew up with. The first calf that lived in our old log house arrived one cold December night 49 years ago when our son Michael was just a year old and not big enough to help dry her.
The mother of this calf was our smallest Angus heifer, named Annie. This birth wasn’t planned. Our Hereford bull, Big John, jumped the fence nine months earlier and bred two heifers. One was a Holstein (our future milk cow) and we were not worried about her ability to deliver her first calf. But Annie was very small and we did worry about her, fearing the calf might be too large to be born without assistance.
Annie chose a very cold night to calve, so when she went into labor we put her in the barn. That was before we had a good calving barn; the only barn on the place was the old falling-down milk barn that the former owners of our ranch had built many years earlier, but at least it gave some shelter. There was a terrible wind blowing that night, and the temperature dropped. Even though Annie was in the barn, the wind blew through cracks between the logs.
When we checked on her at 2 a.m. she was still in early labor. When we checked again at 4 a.m. she’d had the calf, unassisted, but she didn’t want to be a mother. Instead of licking the new baby, she was bunting it around with her head and had shoved it into a drafty corner. The little heifer was half frozen; ears and tail were frozen solid and the inside of her mouth was cold.
There wasn’t time to argue with Annie over the subject of motherhood. The calf was freezing to death. We carried her to the house and gave her a warm shower to thaw her out, since at that time we didn’t have a bathtub. Our young son Michael thought it very funny that we were giving a calf a shower. We toweled the calf dry by the wood stove, but her ear tips and the end of her tail were too badly frozen to be restored to circulation even with warmth and massage; she eventually lost them.
I thawed some frozen colostrum (that we’d saved from our milk cow), poured the warm fluid into a pop bottle and tried to feed the calf with a lamb nipple. But Bandit Eyes (so named because of the black spots, like a mask, over each eye) was too weak and cold to suck. This was before we learned how to use a stomach tube, and esophageal feeders weren’t invented yet. Finally we injected some dextrose under her skin — under the loose hide over her shoulder — where she could absorb it rapidly into her bloodstream. This gave her some energy and within 20 minutes she seemed more interested in life, even trying to stand up. After that, she nursed my bottle. It was several hours, however, before she stopped shivering. She spent the rest of the morning on towels in front of the stove.
NOT A MOTHER
When we carried the warmed-up calf back to her mother in the barn, Annie still didn’t want anything to do with her. My husband Lynn haltered and tied up the snorty young cow in the barn stall and we tried to guide the calf to the udder, but Annie fought and kicked at us and the calf. We decided it would be safer and easier to raise Bandit Eyes on the young Holstein heifer, who was also due to calve right away — since she’d been bred at the same time when our amorous Hereford bull jumped the fence. She would have plenty of milk for two babies.
We brought Bandit Eyes back to the house, where she lived in our bathroom — since we didn’t want her making messes all over the house. During the first day she was content to sleep on an old rug. By evening she became more energetic, jumping up enthusiastically to greet whoever came to feed her a bottle, prowling around the bathroom after each feeding, in search of something else to suck on.
When she came wandering out of the bathroom and began nosing around in the kitchen, butting the cupboards and bumping into the table and chairs (much to the delight of our son Michael), we barricaded the bathroom door with chairs. The door at that time, in the old log house, did not shut properly and had no latch. We hoped the calf wouldn’t get out during the night.
The next morning we thought about taking her out to the barn to live with the milk cows’ calves, but the weather was very cold. We were soft-hearted and decided to leave her in the house a little longer. Baby Michael was glad; he was quite fascinated by the calf and delighted in petting her like a big dog.
As the day progressed, however, Bandit Eyes became livelier, bucking around and crashing into everything. Anyone going into the bathroom for any reason was immediately attacked by a bunting, wobbly, slobbering calf. In self defense I started taking her bottle with me each time I had to go to the bathroom, to let her take out her frustrations on the empty nipple instead of on me. When Lynn tried to shave, she sucked on his pant legs and bunted him. He nicked himself with the razor each time she jostled him. That was the last straw. She had to go outside.
During the last night she spent in the house, we could hear her banging around in the bathroom and we were afraid she might get through the stacked chairs in the doorway. We didn’t dare go look, since the sight of one of us made her all the more energetic, thinking we might be bringing her a bottle. She had adopted us both as mama. When we went out to the kitchen that morning, she was so eager to see us she crawled through the stack of chairs.
That day the weather warmed up, our young Holstein calved, and it was perfect timing to move Bandit Eyes out to the barn, to her new mother. Lynn carried her outside and I began the clean-up job in the bathroom. I was pleased and thankful we’d been able to save her from freezing to death. The animals we raise are always more than just dollars to pay the bills. They are all individuals, and each is precious for its own sake.
Bandit Eyes grew up to be a cow and eventually had calves of her own. She looked a little funny with her short ears and stubby tail, and was also a little spoiled because she was a pet. But she was special — the first of many calves that lived for a while in our house. ❖