I never stepped foot on a farm until moved to Iowa. Growing up, we only saw farm animals at the State Fair or the exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo. This is my first time hanging out with farmers and I’ve now met a goat, chicken, and pig. When Laura extended an invitation to visit her farm and bottle feed a calf named Lena, I enthusiastically accepted the opportunity.
“I’m going to visit a cow farm and bottle-feed a calf!” I exclaimed to my coworkers. “Have you ever been around cows?” They smiled and replied they have many times! In fact, they also grew up in families that raised cows. It’s interesting to be the odd woman out in terms of having grown up around cows.
Laura, a third generation cattle farmer and her husband Aaron operate SkyView Farms. Their cows live in a type of open air barn in the winter and roam their pasture in the spring, summer, and fall. They eat a combination of grass from the pasture in addition to alfalfa and corn silage. Laura said their family has never administered their cattle antibiotics or growth hormones. Learn more about how Laura raises her cows here.
Laura’s husband Aaron took us on tractor rides. Basically, tractors pull things. I knew what a tractor was but had no idea what it actually did until I moved to Iowa. When we reached the end of the pasture, Aaron asked me if I’d like to drive.
I considered his offer. When would I have the opportunity to drive a tractor again? I said yes and we quickly switched seats. He adjusted the gears, flipped a switch, and told me to push a lever that increased the tractor’s speed. I tried my best to drive in a straight line. “You know that I don’t know how to stop this thing,” I reminded Aaron as we approached the group. He easily stopped the tractor just when I thought we were going to run over everyone.
Then it was time to meet the cows. One of the first questions I asked Laura is why they would need to bottle-feed a calf. Don’t cows nurse their young? Laura explained that every once in a while, something will happen where a mom will not want to nurse her young. In Lena the calf’s particular case, her mother ignored her after birth and would not bond with her so Laura had to start the bottle-feeding process.
When Lena was younger, Laura fed her multiple times a day. Now, she feeds her twice a day and has begun to introduce solid food. Laura has become like Lena’s surrogate mom. Laura showed us the different types of bottles they use. Some calves prefer different sizes and Lena likes the small bottles.
Laura mixed the formula with water that was exactly 100℉.
Lena knew it was meal time and greeted us with loud moo’s. We each fed her a bottle and she drank each one within minutes. Afterwards, she kept searching for more milk. Laura patted Lena’s little belly assuring us she was actually quite full. Lena sucked on Laura’s pants and our fingers.
As Laura walked around the barn, Lena followed her around headbutting at her knees.Laura described how calves headbutt their mother’s udders when they want to nurse. Whenever Laura would skip around the barn, Lena would prance after her.
Mother cows lick their calves’ backs, so Laura tries to replicate some of these processes such as rubbing Lena’s back. I asked Laura how she learned how to care for cows and bottle-feed calves and she replied that her dad first taught her how to bottle-feed a calf when she was five.
We met more of her herd. On this day, the cows were in the barns, but would return to the pasture that weekend.
They enjoyed an alfalfa snack.
Cows are intriguing. I’ve heard from many that they are curious creatures and found this is true. They watched at us quizzically with their big, warm eyes. If I stood near the fence, they’d slowly congregate in front of me and stare with curiosity. If I extended my hand towards them, they’d back up. If I turned my head or took a step backwards, they’d move forward again. Every once in a while, a brave cow would step forward and gently lick my hand while the rest observed. These cows had black tongues with a rough texture.
Laura assured us her cows were gentle. Occasionally she would climb the fence and wander amidst the herd without hesitation. They just moved around her.
The cows are happily grazing as you read. You can see a short clip of me bottle feeding Lena and Lena prancing around the barn after Laura in this short, minute-long video.