The trusted comforter

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Most farmers who raise livestock have had a newborn animal inside their house at one time or another. For those of us who calve, lamb, farrow or foal in early spring, that probably equates to many newborns in our homes over the years — and we most likely have a routine that has been perfected with experience. My wife and I make use of an old comforter.

It was early February of this year, and the first real snow of the winter had the ground covered in 6 inches of powder. The temperature was in the 20s when an old, red cow had given birth to a fine, little heifer calf. Unfortunately, the calf had become entangled in some brush when it exited its mother and had been unable to stand, or be licked clean by mom. Luckily, I found it within a couple of hours of birth and was able, with the help of a neighbor, to get it loaded into the heated cab of the UTV. On the way to the house, I phoned my wife. “We’ve got one chilled to the bone. Be there in 5 minutes.”

I don’t remember how we came to have the thick, plush comforter. I can only assume it covered the bed of one of our boys many years ago, but it has remained in a closet for some 30 years, and is used only to warm newborn calves in our house. It fits perfectly between the oven and dishwasher in our kitchen, and is directly in front of a furnace vent. Judy had the comforter bed prepared when I arrived with the baby girl.

The calf was wet on the outside, cold on the inside, and unable to even open its eyes. With the furnace cranked up to high, Judy began rubbing the calf with a series of old towels while I fetched the hand-held hair dryer to blow hot air onto the calf-sicle as quickly as possible. After a couple of hours of EMT work by my wife and me, the youngster opened its eyes and we took that as a sign to provide nourishment. It wasn’t able to suck, but the esophageal feeder provided a quart of warm colostrum that seemed to be welcome. By bedtime, the calf was able to stand on the comforter, and walk around a little, so we moved the calf and comforter to the garage for the rest of the night. The next morning, I returned the baby to its mother and everyone lived happily ever after.

Last week, Judy and I were watching an episode of my favorite YouTube farmer in South Dakota when he was assisting a cold newborn by placing it in a factory-made calf warmer. Not knowing such a device even existed, Judy enthusiastically stated, “We need one of those!”

“I don’t think so; they cost around $800, and we have a free comforter.” 

Jerry Crownover is a farmer and former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University. He is a native of Baxter County, Arkansas, and an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’

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