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Dr. B.
Dr. B., Veterinarian
Category: Large Animal Veterinary
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Experience:  As a veterinarian, I have been educated to treat all animals, big and small.
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We have a four-year-old cow that lost her calf two and a half

Customer Question

We have a four-year-old cow that lost her calf two and a half weeks ago. This week she has taken the newborn calf of another cow from her (other cow is a heifer) and is trying to nurse him. She's very protective and won't let us or the birth mother near the calf. The calf is totally confused and seems to have no idea the heifer is his mother. Is there anything that needs to be done in this situation?
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Large Animal Veterinary
Expert:  Michelle-mod replied 2 years ago.
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Expert:  Dr. B. replied 2 years ago.
Hello & welcome, I am Dr. B, a licensed veterinarian and I would like to help you with today. I do apologize that your question was not answered before. Different experts come online at various times; I just came online, read about your situation, and wanted to help.
Now this is a case where we need to decide what we want from this situation. This is because the damage/stress to the calf-heifer's relationship has already been strained and broken. And from the sounds of it, the older cow is doing an adequate job with the calf.
Therefore, as long as the calf got colostrum from its real mum in the first 24 hours (since that is essentially its immune system for the first few weeks) the older cow has milk, the calf is thriving, and the cow is happy to care for this calf; then one could continue to let her do so. Of course, if the cow lost her own calf due to an issue that will have bearing on future calves, then you may still need to cull her once she has weaned this calf.
Otherwise, if you want the heifer to rear her own calf, then you will need to keep them together in a pen and work to get her used to caring for this calf. If she isn't keen to let it feed, this may mean letting it do so while she is being restrained or in the crush to do so. Often with time they will allow feeding, but this would take some work if they don't interact like mum and calf at this stage.
Overall, this is situation where how to approach depends wholly on your goals and how the calf is faring with its false mum. If it is doing well with the cow as its surrogate and settled with her, then you can let the cow continue to rear the calf. But if you personally want to push the heifer to rear her calf, then she and the calf need to be isolated from this cow and we may need to actively work to get her to feed it, accept her wee one, and start mothering her own calf.
I hope this information is helpful.
If you need any additional information, do not hesitate to ask!
All the best,
Dr. B.
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