The Calf Nursery

13-09-2013 4-08-01 PM

The calf breeding project, the subject of this story, was a project funded by the parents, for and on behalf of the four children. It was the childrens’ own project to mimic their parents successful  farming enterprise. The children had each been given a gift of a young calf for a birthday, usually the seventh birthday, and had sole responsibility to raise that animal. Any profit from the sale of the animal was the child’s reward, for their services rendered.  These animals did not have to be sold, they could be held and retained as breeding stock, thus maximising the future profits and returns.

We found this to be a very successful and rewarding exercise. The money was deposited to our bank accounts, and it taught us valuable lessons in finance. The money  was ours to spend, but it came with careful supervision and advice from our parents.

After successfully raising one animal, and seeing the money in our bank accounts, it stood to reason, that we would pursue similar project in the future. This time we decided it should be on a much larger scale. Each child would have to provide the labour, or negotiate with our siblings to share other chores, if they were unable to provide the labour required. Our parents would fund the ongoing costs of the project, but those funds would be deducted from the profit and return on the investment.

Then one day, the baby calves arrived on our farm. We suddenly had about twenty new baby calves to look after. All the calves were  just days or weeks old and all required hand nursing and to be fed milk three times a day. They were housed in a large yard which was formerly the Hay Shed Yard. The old Hay Shed had been moved further away from the house yards, down to the Day Paddock.

The baby calves had to be taught to suck milk on a teat. We had very large buckets of milk, with half a dozen large rubber teats, connected to rubber hoses inserted into the buckets. The calves were first taught to suck on our fingers, then we placed their little mouths onto the teats, and they sucked the milk up out of the bucket. Kidding we did not have very sore fingers for many weeks after.

Mother travelled from our farm in Wodonga about seven miles across the Lincoln Causeway to near the NSW border in Albury to buy the fresh full cream milk for the calves. She bought the milk in what seemed huge steel milk containers. It was either the big floods of 1952 or 1956, and there was massive flooding in the area. The road to Albury was cut by the floods. I recall driving there with mum, just before the road was closed, and watched in awe a huge sea of water up to the edge of the road. This road was much higher, maybe four metres or more, than the river and farmland below. It was the main link between Albury and Wodonga, part of the Hume Highway, the major highway between Melbourne and Sydney.

When the road was cut by the floods, it caused major problems for us, for the daily milk supply for the baby calves. I believe my mother had to take drastic measures to save the baby calves. She bought dry powdered full cream milk and made it up to feed them. There was a huge risk that the powdered milk would cause problems for our small charges, but there was no way she would risk losing them if at all possible. I believe some of the baby calves experienced some minor gastric upsets, but none became very sick or died.

At the same time as the Calf Nursery Project was running, my mother bought a little miniature Shetland foal. It was the tiniest pony I had ever seen. I think she rescued it from other people who were caught up with the floods. We put the foal in the Nursery with the baby calves. The foal was the same black colour as the calves.

My father had been away either on a Cattle Buying exercise or droving cattle for several weeks. We were so excited about our new pony, and excited to see dad’s reaction to it.

When dad arrived home, we took him to the Nursery, to show off our babies. We did not tell him about the new foal, we hoped he would spot the baby foal amongst the calves. He did not notice the foal, and luckily it did not ‘whinee’ or make a sound.

We waited a week and dad was still unaware of our big secret. We could not contain our excitement any longer, and had to take dad on a closer inspection of the baby calves, before we came across the foal. We pretended we did not know we had a tiny pony in amongst the mob of calves. Dad shook his head and laughed at us. We ‘got’ him, we won, we had tricked him.

That little foal became the new baby in our family. Sometimes we let him walk around inside our house, and sometimes we played tricks on our guests and brought him inside to meet them. Luckily there were no ‘accidents’ or bowel movements whilst he was inside, lest there would have been real strife. The foal was always stabled, he was too tiny to allow out into the big paddocks. But one day someone let him out, we later found him in the back paddock, lying in pain with colic not far from the dam. The vet was called and there was a week of tension, whether he could be saved or not. He did survive and luckily recovered. He was not used to eating grass, it was a drastic change to his diet, and small ponies seem to gorge their food. The belly full of water after the gorging created the colic, a life threatening illness for most horses.

here is a link to the floods;

This aerial photo shows the flooding of Lincoln Causeway in 1974, it was not as bad as the 1952 or 1956 floods, which covered the road.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/oakleystudios/5420379754/

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/42741492?searchTerm=Victoria Flood, Wodonga, vic&searchLimits=l-availability=y%2Ff

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