How to graft a calf
We take the calf that has been rejected by his mother, and give it to a cow who’s calf has died during birth. This works best if the live calf is only a few days old, but it often works with older claves too.
Cows identify their offspring by scent, so getting some of her dead calf scent onto the orphan calf is the most important part of grafting a calf.
If the calf is dead at birth, don’t even let the cow lick it – she doesn’t know which calf is hers till she licks it. Take it away immediately, and rub some of the birth fluids onto the live calf. Bring the live calf to her and she will probably take it immediately.
If that doesn’t work, or maybe her calf lived a few days, then you have to take stronger measures, because the cow now knows which is her calf!
So, Cliff has to do the not-fun part of cowboying, and skin a calf that has been dead for 2 days. This calf died during or shortly after birth.
First, he cuts the skin off with a skinning knife. Starting at the breastbone, he makes a cut to down the belly, then out each leg a few inches.
Next, he separates the skin from the body by pulling and cutting – keeping the skin taut as he goes. You just need the skin from the body and a bit of the legs. We will use that leg skin to tie it on to the live calf.
Meanwhile, he has tied-up this live, orphan baby by the legs, so it can’t jump off the truck and hurt it’s little self.
Cliff slipped a rope around the calf’s neck, and lead it to the barn.
- Next, He places the wet hide from the dead calf over the back of the live calf. The calf doesn’t mind.
- Then he ties it on with baling twine – always available on any ranch.
- He makes slits through the hide on each corner, and slips the twine through the holes and under the chest and belly, tying it on securely.
The idea is that if the cow smells her calf’s skin – she won’t know (or care) if it’s actually a different calf. Then the abandoned/orphaned calf can live in disguise as her own. And everyone will be happy.
Sometimes it works – and sometimes it doesn’t. Here is the mother of the dead calf.
Push the abandoned calf inside the calving pen.
The cow sniffs the calf warily, unsure what to think of this new little babe who smells kind of like her calf. This is the moment of truth! Will she accept him or not??
Success!!! Within seconds, that hungry baby went for the dinner table, and she let him. The hungry baby has a new mama, and the sad mama cow has (unwittingly) been comforted by what she thinks is her own sweet baby. And we don’t have to bottle feed this calf. 🙂 Everyone is happy.