Belle’s Story: The Loss of My Heifer Calf

My sweet Belle. Baby Belle . Baby Belle Cheese. Belle-y Button… the list could go on. My sweet girl was laid to rest yesterday evening and my heart is broken,

I purchased Belle, my heifer calf, from an auction at the end of April. I remember sitting at the auction feeling overwhelmed by having to choose the ‘right’ calves to bring home. Not really knowing what I should be looking for, I based my decision on size of the calf and their liveliness. Though Belle was a bit smaller then the rest, she showed vigor and I liked that about her.

I brought home Belle along with another calf, my sweet Taco, and their five goat friends to add to my goat herd. On the way home from the auction, I made a phone call to my dear friend and newly-appointed-calf-mentor, Annabel. I started on my laundry list of questions of what the heck I needed to do next. Annabel walked me through everything I needed to know and what supplies I needed for my new calves. It was an overwhelming day for everyone so when Belle didn’t show any interest in eating that night, Annabel and I figured she was a just a bit stressed and would eat better in the morning.

I struggled for the first week or so with Belle eating from her bottle. After speaking with my vet and my trusted mentor team, we came to the conclusion that Belle was probably born a twin and perhaps didn’t receive enough oxygen to start with and in turn didn’t receive as much colostrum she needed from her mother. A term for this type of calf is called a dummy calf or weak calf syndrome. Could this be the reason she went to the auction in the first place? I will never know. What I do know is that Belle and I rallied hard together to get her eating back on schedule.

Things seemed to be going much better. Belle was up grazing with Taco and playing with her goat friends on the daily. One morning I noticed Belle was slow to get up and struggled a bit to come and get her breakfast. I sent a message to Annabel and she asked for photos of her joints.

It turns out that Belle had started to develop an infection in her joint, Joint Ill, that is common in weak calves. It occurs as a result of infection entering via the umbilical cord at, or soon after, birth.

I called the vet to request medication which they prescribed with the warning that success in treating this was not likely. I took the warning with a grain of salt praying that I had caught this infection early enough that treatment would be successful. I had a talk with Belle early on in our time together. I looked her in the eye and told her that I would fight for her as long as she would fight back.

Over the next four weeks, I treated her as directed and there were days she did great and others not so well. When the bad days started to out number the good ones, I had to sit back and think about the quality of life I wanted Belle to have. I could go on treating her for her pain and hope the infection would go away but knowing that typically wasn’t the case for these animals made my answer more clear.

I looked at my sweet Baby Belle yesterday and knew her fight was over. We gave it our best effort but the cards had been stacked against her since the day she was born. I know I did everything in my power to save her, but it still hurts. It still hurts knowing she is gone and I’ll miss seeing that sweet face. I’m going to miss her sweet quirks like having to stretch her neck not once, but two times before she would get up. Only eating on the right side of Taco because she liked to suck on his right ear only when she was done eating. I’ll miss seeing her afternoon naps with her goat friend, Chip, and her running laps in the evening during witching hour.

I know this all may sound super strange to a veteran cattle producer, believe me. I did not purchase Belle to be a pet cow, she was a commodity and would eventually be sold for beef. None of that is lost on me. I was prepared to let her go, just not so soon you know? I wanted her to live her full life and fulfil her true purpose of nourishing a family because that’s my job as a farmer. Although Belle didn’t fulfil that purpose, she did serve another. She taught me so many lessons as a new farmer and I will forever be in gratitude of my sweet baby girl. It was an honour being your Mama.

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