“I’m going to save this calf.” That’s what I confidently told Cassidy, one of our high school helpers, as she crouched down next to me, holding the calf still while I stuck the needle in its vein and started a lactated ringers IV. I explained to her that this calf had a bad case of scours and we had been giving it an IV every 12 hours and giving electrolytes via a tube feeder. I’ve saved many seemingly helpless calves, and I wasn’t about to fail on this young heifer. However, the next morning, I walked into the calf barn to find my efforts weren’t enough. Anger filled me. Why was this heifer different from others I’d saved?
    Frustrated, I spent extra time in the calf barn watching the calves, identifying far too many with scours and mixing up electrolytes for each one. One bull calf refused to drink his bottle, so I put the electrolytes in the tube feeder, and just like I had done many times before, proceeded to tube feed him. About three-fourths of the way through, the electrolyte mix began coming back out the calf’s mouth, and I quickly stopped. I helplessly watched as the calf gagged and gasped for air. He too, didn’t survive. Now, rage filled me. My skills weren’t enough to keep my calves alive. I needed to ask for help.
    I sent in several fecal samples, and lost two more calves in the following days. Finally, our vet called with results of rotavirus and E. coli, and we discussed a treatment and prevention plan. I relayed the info to my dad, and together we are implementing a vaccine at birth and giving pills as treatment for those already sick. I’m excited to say we are on the mend and working on getting all our calves’ immunity built up again.
    Losing four calves will be on my conscience for a long time. As I look back and analyze our situation, I can see what led to our problems. Normally, bull calves are sold within a week of birth, but with the low prices, we have been keeping them longer. That means our calf barn has double the number of calves it is meant to hold. Additionally, a calving boom in January added to the workload and the frigid temps caused cold stress for both the calves and us. The excessive snow requires hours in the skidloader clearing the yard, taking away from our time spent caring for the calves. Finally, the challenging weather had prevented me from keeping up with my weekly dry cow vaccinations, which meant calves weren’t getting needed protection in their colostrum.
    With another snowstorm in the forecast, I’m preparing by getting our calf barn organized – extra bedding, cleaning calf jackets not in use, pail training as many as we can, cleaning up dirty pails, and making sure we have plenty of grain nearby so we don’t have to walk through the snow. I can’t change the number of calves we have to feed, but I can do my best to make feeding calves easier. I’m getting caught up on dry cow vaccinations, and in a few weeks, I am confident we will able to eliminate the $4 vaccine we have been giving calves at birth and fully rely on their immunity via colostrum.
    I always keep an attitude of gratitude. While I could not save the sick calves, I did catch a fresh cow going off feed and was able to successfully prevent her from developing a DA by drenching fluids. With the cold weather preventing us from running our weekly footbath, our hoof trimmer was able to make an extra stop and take care of our lame cows. One of our best hired hands, Nick is helping us this week during his spring break, and we are getting caught up on a lot of projects with his help. Next week there will be more hours of daylight to renew our spirits. Last week, my mom received confirmation that she is five years breast cancer free and we celebrated by going out for lunch, followed by an afternoon running errands together. We stopped at a liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine, and I noticed my favorite beverage, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, was available. If it has to be this cold outside, at least I can have a taste of summer.
    Laura Scholtz farms with her father, John Rosenhammer, and uncle Greg, on Roseview Dairy near Sleepy Eye, Minn. They milk 200 Holsteins and run 580 acres of cropland.