Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Stan rejoins the herd.

If you’ve visited Wicken Fen in the last six months you might have stopped to say hello to the three cows in the fields next to the car park. If you’ve then visited in the last two weeks, you’ll have noticed that they have gone. All three cows are now back out on Burwell Fen, and have joined up with the breeding herd of cows out there.

We had them in the paddocks because Stan, the black calf, was orphaned at Christmas. Before he was born the Grazing Rangers noticed that his mum, Wendy was looking in poor condition out on Burwell Fen, but was also looking very pregnant. We decided to moved her up to the paddock so we could give her some extra feed and mineral licks, knowing the winter would only get harder for her once she’d had a calf. The hope was that we could fatten her up a bit ready to go back out to the herd in the spring with her new calf. She gave birth to Stan, in mid-December and for two weeks they both seemed to be getting along fine. One morning, however, she was found lying down, unable to stand, and we had her put down. It was a very sad day as Wendy was one of the original cows that first came to Wicken from Scotland way back in 2005, and she had a reputation of being particularly friendly. I remember when I first met her thinking she was the most dog like cow I had ever met, as she used to wag her tail while she was getting a good scratch. She reached the grand old age of 13, which is pretty good for a cow, our oldest is currently 19 and she isn’t breeding. We couldn’t wallow in our sadness for long though, as we had a two week old calf relying on us for everything from this moment on.

Wendy and Stan after Stan's Ear Tagging. He wasn't that small for long
We built him a small pen with straw and shelter, and set about trying to convince him that the bottle of milk we were offering was as good as his mum’s udder. A lot of time was spent sitting with him in his pen, getting him used to us and eventually he trusted us enough to start sucking on our fingers. Calves have a strong natural instinct to suckle so once they are sucking your fingers it’s not too tricky to swap your fingers for the teat of a bottle. Once he was feeding regularly, with feeds four times a day, he grew, and grew quickly into a very sturdy little fella.

Stan enjoying a milk feed
While the Rangers could provide him with food, water, warmth, shelter and company, we couldn’t teach him how to be a cow, he needed some cow friends. For this reason, we rounded up Bramble and her calf Ennion, and brought them up to the paddock to help teach Stan what cows do. Ennion was only 10 days older than Stan, so we were hoping that they would make friends, giving Stan someone to tag along with when he joined the rest of the herd. It wasn’t plain sailing. Stan was used to people giving him lots of fuss, attention and milk and generally being the center of attention. He had a bit of a shock when he went bumbling up to a fully grown cow who had very little interest in him, and who quickly became irritated by the little black calf trying to play games with her. He got a few tellings off, a few taps on the bum with her horns, but he learnt quickly to stay out of her way. He and Ennion did make friends though. They were tentative at first, Ennion being quite shy, but they soon started grazing next to each other, exploring the fields together and could often be seen sunbathing side by side. Ennion, with the support of his mum, quickly gained in confidence, and was seen winning a lot of the play fights he and Stan were having. They were quite the attraction along Lode Lane as the visitor numbers rose with the good weather. They managed to convince a lot of people they were looking hungry and the rangers spent some time talking to visitors to explain that they were well fed, and feeding them grass through the fence would only encourage them to approach people when they were fully grown bulls.

Bramble, Ennion and Stan once they had all made friends
We gave them a little bit of extra hay when the grazing got very low at the end of winter
In June the day came when Stan was weaned off his milk, and looking strong enough to join the rest of the herd on Burwell Fen. We put him, Bramble and Ennion in a field where the rest of the herd could peer over the fence to look at them and smell them. the herd were called over to the field to make sure they got to see each other. This gave all three of them a safer introduction back into the herd, as having 15 cows all interested in one cow at the same time can result in a few arguments. After a few days in this field we let Parsley and Mulda 1 into the field with them and they soon settled down which was the signal to let them into the main area with the whole herd. Even with the soft introduction Ennion got himself into quite a few tussles, possibly because he was used to being boss over Stan and hadn’t realised that these bigger cows wouldn’t stand for that. He had a sore leg for a few days, but has now learnt his place and settled down. His mum was no help, as she was so exciting about seeing bulls again that she was spending all her time flirting with them. Stan did a fantastic job of staying on the edge of the herd, not pushing his luck and just saying hello to a few of the younger cows. He has been learning where he sits on the hierarchy running away from the big cows, but sparing with the younger ones so he’s not bottom of the pile. All three of them are doing well, though all the cows have been looking very warm over the last week, its hot weather at the moment if you’re made with an in built woolly coat!   
The boys were a bit wary of their new home on Burwell Fen
The rest of the herd having a good look at old and new friends
Stan is loving life with his new herd
The whole herd is using the ponds as good ways to cool down in the warm July weather.