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Smelly Socks: Adding another male to the family - a calf named Mr. Dilbert

July 3, 2014 at 2:03 a.m.

Jamison and Mr. Dilbert

Our current ranch mix has had its male dominance reinforced by a new addition. It seems that my boys, Austin and Jamison, and my husband, John, just seem to attract other males.

Our ranch is filled with dogs, cats and horses, but our cows seem to be overbalanced in the male direction. The one area that everyone recognizes that being female is far more important is in our cattle herd. Naturally, it is the mommas that make the money.

When a new calf arrives, there is always heightened enthusiasm to find out if it is a heifer or a bull calf. With registered Brahmans, a heifer is always what you are hoping for. Recently, we were out calling the herd together with cattle cubes for a routine inspection when we noticed a little white dot that didn't seem to belong.

The little dot was a skinny, drawn, little calf that was rejected by the mommas that were matched up with calves of their own. After further investigation, it was apparent this long-legged, floppy-eared, dramatic-eyed bag of bones had also been rejected by his own momma.

A certain momma cow had twins and decided one was more than enough, being the diva that she is. My motherly instincts kicked in and even though I realized the amount of work involved, I asked John to bring him up to the house.

I was hoping if I was going to go through the work of bottle-feeding a calf that I would at least be adding another female to the herd, but as things always seem to go in my male-dominated world, it was a bull calf.

This poor calf was so emaciated and drawn that I knew he wouldn't make it another day without some serious help. Luckily, the calf had evidently gotten its first milk from his mother, as he seemed stronger and had more sense than a normal newborn calf. My boys quickly gathered around the calf when we got him up to the house, and the ever-helpful Jamison announced, "I'll fix him a bottle."

Right then, I verbally quoted Sherlock Holmes since at that particular point I knew that "the game was afoot." I'll never understand why it takes so much effort to get milk down a starving calf. He jerks his head, knocks the rubber nipple off the bottle, butts the bottle and bottle holder and gives everyone in the vicinity a drink of milk but himself.

Then, he puts on a show as his eyes roll back in his head, and his enormous ears flap wildly as he tries to move his mouth as far away from the bottle as possible. After a while, right when you feel like giving up, the calf gets the same idea and slides to the ground. Nothing more can be accomplished once this happens,the bottle feeding then turns into a waiting game until he decides to get up and give it another go.

Seeing the calf's struggle with a bottle and the powder milk you are supposed to feed them reminds me of certain similarities to my boys when you try to get them to try new food. The protests begin of: "Mom, it doesn't taste good," or my personal favorite, "This is going to make me choke" - complete with their gagging motions.

Usually by the fourth or fifth try, the calf, which Jamison affectionately named Dilbert, hooks on the bottle and becomes a sucking machine complete with a swinging little tail to let you know he is happy.

There is nothing like looking out of my kitchen window in the cool of a summer morning and seeing my shirtless 10-year-old Jamison with his pajama bottoms tucked into his cowboy boots, wearing his father's crumpled up old cowboy hat and feeding Dilbert his breakfast bottles in the backyard.

After the bottles are completely drained, an interesting dance then takes place as Jamison tries to get back into the house. This dance seems to go: Jamison taking a few quick steps to avoid the butting, bucking and sucking motions of a still hungry calf, then Jamison quickly does a direction switch and makes a run for the door with an orphaned calf that has found a new "momma and decided to follow all the way to our back door" in hot pursuit.

We have a perfectly nice pen in our backyard that neither the calf nor Jamison think is suitable. Instead, Mr. Dilbert, as he is now referred to, prefers to position himself on our back porch and peer inside intently with his exotic eyes.

He calmly lounges on our porch among the dogs and cats peering in our wall of windows watching Jamison's every move inside. This particular habit has me constantly grabbing the window cleaner scrubbing off his nose prints and tongue slurps that seem to cover our back windows.

True to form, we have added another male member to our family who is quiet, affectionate, loyal and hungry all the time. I have no idea what we are going to do when he reaches the approaching 500-pound mark and still wants to make his adobe on our back porch. One thing is for sure: Our summer project makes for some very interesting yard art.

Johanna is a proud seventh-generation Texan. She lives on her family's South Texas ranch with her husband and two lively boys. Email Johanna Bloom or Anita Spisak at smellysocks@vicad.com.

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