Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Monkey See, Monkey Do

One of the wonderful things about share-milking is that our cows get to raise their calves and calves get to stay with their mothers.  Both our Dexter cows are excellent mothers, and it does my heart good to see them love on their calves.  Seb is one of the most precocious calves we've had yet.  Here's a glimpse of him playing "Monkey See, Monkey Do" as he learns from Ebby how to be a bovine.

When Seb went out to pasture for the first time at two days old, he began to imitate his mama, trying out the grass.  I doubt he managed to swallow a bite, but he was definitely watching and copying her.

When he was a week old, Seb mimicked Ebby in another way, with a little help from some humans.  A dear friend sent him a fly mask for his birthday, so Seb and Ebby grazed at peace from from flies.

That day he definitely managed to bite off some green stuff . . .

 . . . and it made him frisk with glee.  You can see a piece of clover between his lips--what an accomplishment!
Another thing Seb learns from Ebby is how to come into the stanchion and behave.  I lead him in using a black training halter (below, on the garbage can of feed), then trade it for a nylon halter attached to the stanchion because the training halter falls off when he's at rest.  Seb stands calm and quiet while I change his halter.  He usually turns his face up to me when I'm done--and of course, he gets a kiss!

Ebby's calm demeanor reassures Seb, and after only a day or two he has learned to curl up on the floor and take a nap while I milk.  I put down rubber mats for him because it was so rainy for the first ten days of his life that he kept slipping on the floor.

These photos were taken the day Seb was two weeks old.  As I moved in for a close-up, I noticed something odd.  Seb was chewing something . . . like a cow chewing cud.

And then something brown dribbled out of Seb's mouth.  What on earth was he trying to eat?  I had seen him licking an ant mound a day before; could he have eaten some of it?

I swept my fingers through his mouth to be sure he hadn't gotten hold of something he could choke on.  Luckily I was wearing gloves for milking because what came out was really nasty!  It smelled like barf, and when I sniffed Seb's breath, I smelled a hint of beer.  That sure looks like some dirt, but there's chewed-up grass in there, too.

I was surprised by what happened next.


I had never seen any of our calves chew their cud at such a young age, although that's what it looked like Seb was doing.  So I googled whether a two-week old calf could really chew cud.  I learned that calves can begin to chew their cud as young as two weeks old, although their rumens aren't functioning yet at that age.  When their rumens begin to function varies with their diet, anywhere from three to six months of age, depending on which source you read.

So Seb, precocious little guy, was already copying his mama and trying to chew his cud--or should I say "drink it?"  Believe me, he did NOT get a kiss on his nose that day!

Speaking of strange things animals do . . . When calves are first born, their mothers lick them to make them poop and pee.  Seb pees on his own just fine now, but Ebby still tends to lick him and drink while he's peeing.  (Note her gray tongue underneath him.)  No kisses for her, either, when she does that!

What does Seb do during this display of bovine maternal dutifulness?  He stands still and licks his lips.  In foals, this is a sign of submission, but google failed me when I wanted to find out if that holds true for calves.

I haven't had a camera handy to catch it, but Seb sometimes follows Ebby's example of going to the water tank for a drink after milking.  Calves need water in addition to milk; I keep the tank topped up, and he can just reach the water.  It's common now to see Seb with his head down grazing, just like mama.

Today, for the first time, I observed Seb trying out some hay in a diner à deux.  From the way he tossed his head and threw the hay out of his mouth, it was clear that he doesn't yet see the appeal of it.  He kept coming back for more, though.  After all, "Monkey see, monkey do!" is how calves learn.


  1. It is neat how cows and cats are the same way with early potty habits. When we get bottle babies at work, we have to use a damp towel and stimulate them into going potty, since their mommies aren't there.

    1. At least you get to use a damp towel! LOL! When we lived in France, I got mono and was laid out flat in bed, just when our cat had a litter of kittens and then disappeared. I raised the 5 kittens in bed with me since I was too weak to get up. I had a jug of water and powdered kitty formula--which you bought at the pharmacy!--to make their bottles, and I had a damp washcloth to make them go to the bathroom. Nowadays I'm allergic to cats, so I could never manage that!

  2. Susan,
    Do you just read my mind or something? I decided to look online for some general idea of calf behavior. I thought, why google it, I'll go straight to zephyrhill Hahaha! Seb is so darling! Here u are telling us all about him!

    Hope you are doing well! I'm off to read your blog some more!

    1. Ha ha! I'm glad I read your mind! :) It's so fun observing calves and learning how different they are from each other. If you look in the Labels for Mrs. Tiggywinkle (Tiggy), she's his half sister from last year, but completely different. You'll find more calf stories under Wellington, and also Siobhan if you go way back to when she was a calf in 2010-2011.


I LOVE comments so please take a minute and let me know you were here! Sorry I have to use Captcha, but I hope you'll comment anyway! Comments make my day! :)