Saturday, 25 April 2015

Calf ear tagging

On Wednesday morning there was a call to the office to say that the first calf of the year had been born to Mulda 2. Then it was to battle stations. When we find a new calf, by law we have to have it ear tagged within 20 days. Plenty of time you may think! Not within an extensive grazing program. So Carol and I piled into a truck and headed out to Burwell Fen to meet Hannah and Julie who had spotted the calf.

Within the first 24 hours of giving birth a mother cow will stash her calf. This is an evolutionary adaptation to keep the calf safe from predators. After cleaning them up and giving them their first good drink of milk, the calf will hide away, while the mother goes and grazes far enough away not to give away the calf's location, but close enough to hear it if it gets into trouble. The mother will regularly go back to feed the calf, but more often than not when we're doing the checks the calf is hidden away. They generally stash the calve for about a week, but it can be 2 by which time they have a good set of legs under them! So we need to ear tag as soon as possible to stand a good chance of finding and catching it. If we can do it quickly after its been born, it is also less suspicious of people making it easier to catch and the whole thing a lot less stressful.

The general procedure for us is to distract mum with a bucket of food while we lift the calf into the back of a vehicle. This give us a bit of protection from mum while we're doing the tagging. Then we have to straddle the calf to restrain them, and quickly get the first tag in. Up until this point the calves are normally quite obliging, but it's almost guaranteed they will moo as the first ear tag goes in, attracting mums attention if they didn't already have it. So we then have to quickly get the second ear tag in the other ear, take a hair sample for our DNA data, and get little one out of the truck and back to mum. Some mums will then be content to finish the bucket of food, this also gives her a bit of a boost after pushing a calf out, but Mulda 2 only had a couple more mouthfuls before deciding she wanted to take her son far away from us.

The young man with his first ear tag
Calf and mum have been seen together since, and both seem to be doing OK, though she still likes us to keep a healthy distance at the moment!

And him about to be returned to mum. 
We have also got 6 new foals so far on the fen, and this week I've seen Greylag goslings, baby coots and herons feeding their young in the nest, so spring is well under way at Wicken Fen.