As with children, raising animals is a challenge. Some would say it is more difficult because they can't communicate or tell you what the problem is, but sometimes humans act the same as animals. As you can imagine, we raise lots of babies on the farm. Each year, dozens of infants are born, most without issue, but regularly staff are needed to assist. Small mother cows periodically require assistance pulling a baby at the end of pregnancy, goats need help cleaning up after birthing, chicks need warmth and cleanliness, and so on.
Unfortunately, some animals aren't up to the challenge of being a parent. Goats are especially troubled with this. Each winter there are usually half a dozen unwanted kids left to die while their swollen-uddered mothers go about their usual lives. We attempt to save all animals, but depending on how long the baby was left before we found it, not all endure. There is little more heartbreaking than having to find and bury an infant that was given no chance of life. The heartache and tears that stream down our faces are the only thing that can properly describe it. However, our goal is to never have to feel the pain that is loss. Most orphaned babies take to a bottle in one to two days, but require constant care. They cry relentlessly, have uncompromising diarrhea, and must be fed every two or three hours. Infant kids will drink six bottles per day for the first two weeks, and increase to ten thereafter. Pasteurized goat milk from the grocery store will do in a pinch, but is very expensive long-term and not nearly as beneficial as raw. We always try to milk the original mothers, as their udders enlarge from the lack of feeding. I'm not kidding, the udder turns from a small milk sack to a stretched, swollen basketball with teets that look more like turnips. Mastitis, an infection in the tissue causing inflammation from clogged milk ducts is most common, and in my opinion well deserved to these abhorrent mothers. However, I can't hate them and feel the need to help them, regardless of their poor choices. It only takes about ten minutes to hand-milk each mother, but they are the longest ten minutes of your life. Imagine this: bent over, sweat dripping from every pore of your body, breathing manure-coated dust, holding a goat leg in the air with one hand and squeezing a swollen and purple teet over and over into a bottle with the other. All of this while your counterpart holds a screaming, kicking, belligerent animal for dear life, trying not to let the animal move too much as to disturb the milking. EVERY DAY. It's tons of fun.
The amazing thing about animals, and one of the primary reasons we love them so much, is their compassion. Animals can sense when something is wrong, whether it be with humans or with another animal. I want to share a story with you about one of the most amazing animals at the farm that you've probably never been able to meet. Her name is Chloe and she is now an elderly simmental cow. This unsuspecting black and white cow is the most kind animal on our farm, you can see the gentleness on her face. Many years ago, another of our dairy cows birthed a healthy calf, but only a few days after, was killed due to scratching her udder on a fence, slicing an artery, and bleeding out. This was a horrific and terrorizing event. We immediately attempted to cauterize the wound, but the animal was manic. The vet arrived and attempted the same, but ultimately, we lost her. This poor calf witnessed a tragic event and no longer had a mother. She would not nurse from store-bought milk and thus, lost weight and started to show signs of starvation and deprivation. All of us were without words, we hated to lose such a beautiful baby, especially adding to the hurt from her mothers decease. As a last resort, we attempted to let her out to pasture with the other cows, in hopes that one of the other mothers would take her. Chloe immediately approached the calf and took control. She licked the baby clean, letting her know she would be loved and cared for. I have to imagine that a conversation took place, with Chloe quelling the baby's fears and letting her know that she would now be the loving mother that was so desperately needed, and the baby warily agreeing. Within two days, the calf was healthy and mingling with other calves. Over the years, Chloe has mothered countless other unwanted, or poorly taken care of calves. She even nurses healthy babies that are curious about what her babies are loving so much! She has never once turned anyone away that needed love and care. She is the epitome of gentleness, compassion, and endless love in which animals are so regularly regarded. It pains me to say that she nears the end of her days, but she will always be loved and adored by all her farm family, and looked to as a model of what we should strive to be every day.
Crowes Nest receives orphaned, injured, and neglected animals all the time, but rarely are they the animals that define us. Over the years, we have cared for multiple wild animals and domesticated animals that were basically house dogs. Let me preface what I am about to say with a statement: Never take wild animals and try to make them a pet. Crowes Nest Farm is a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center with US Fish and Wildlife and Texas Parks and Wildlife. WILD ANIMALS DO NOT MAKE GOOD PETS. Now that I have a proper disclaimer, I can move on.
Bill was given to the farm as an orphaned kitten that was taken from its mother by hunters that found it in the woods. NEVER DO THAT! Oh, did I forget to mention that Bill was a bobcat? One of the men believed he could domesticate the kitten and make it a cool house pet. He also had it declawed as to not pose a threat to his future safety. Unfortunately, a spiteful neighbor reported him and the kitten was quickly confiscated. After evaluation, Texas Parks and Wildlife placed him with us. If you have not put the pieces of the puzzle together yet, Bill was deemed unreleasable due to his lack of claws. He would be unable to hunt, which would mean he would starve to death in the wild. Because of his early handling, Bill did become a tame and affectionate feline. Even once grown, we were able to hold him, hand feed him, and play with him. What a sight it was for our visitors to see Farmer Dave walk into view holding a 30 pound purring bobcat in his arms for everyone to pet! Bill spent the rest of his days at the farm eating plenty of fresh meat, purring up a storm, and entertaining thousands of guests with his wild beauty and curious nature. Bill was truly a one of a kind creature, one that showed us the majesty of nature and why wildlife are so special and not to be taken advantage of. Although I do miss him, I would not want to replace him. I just can't bare the thought of putting a healthy wild animal in a cage to live out their days. It's just not what they were created for.
Another unique friend was Ricky the raccoon. He had a similar origin as Bill, and acted akin in his ability to be held and played with. However, Ricky was a companion more than anything. He was so loved that we fed him specially, played with him extra, and loved him endlessly. Our affection added unwanted weight to this creature that naturally would have been slender. But the plump little critter was made even more adorable by his rolls and voluptuous figure. Ricky reminds me of a baby-like "michelin man." He would waddle when walking, sit upright on his bottom like an infant, and reach out his hands when he wanted what you were holding or wanted to be picked up. Think a chubby sloth with a cheerful demeanor. Raising Ricky was a very positive experience, but losing him was one of the hardest losses we've had to endure. I was in middle school when Ricky was overcome with a form of cancer. All of the farm staff that had the honor of knowing this friendly ball of fur were heartbroken with the news. I remember sitting with my brother and father, holding this animal that most people would have killed, thinking that there would never be another friend in the world like him. Even though Ricky wasn't a "pet," he had found a very special place in our hearts. One that would leave a deep void. One that left even the hardest of hearts softened. It was truly a loss of grand proportions.
Loss is something that all animal owners must become acquainted with. It is unfortunately undeniable. If you are going to take on the challenge of bringing new life into the world, you have to be strong enough to bare the trials that come along with it. Animals are not human, no matter how much we want them to be. They can't talk, they don't always listen, and they don't live 80 to 100 years. But that doesn't take away from the fact that they can be family. No matter what you own, acquire, or raise, remember that you do have to open your heart just enough for love to spill out. As much as we need love as humans, animals need it and deserve it as well, and boy to they return it. Remember the simple phrases: "you reap what you sow," "you get out what you put in," and "Hard work pays off" if you are up for the task. There is nothing more rewarding than raising your own flocks, feeding your family food fresh from the garden, and living life as it was originally intended: full.