That May Not Be So Cute When He Grows Up

funnycalfwtmk0000.jpg

“That may not be so cute when he’s a big boy!”  Wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that phrase.  And whether it was a bundle of fluff Bichon pup or an all-legs-all-the-time baby Great Dane, the caution was always worth heeding.  Because baby animals grow up to be adult animals.

Between my own dogs and helping others with theirs, a lot of puppies have grown up around or with me.  Storm, the newest baby in the house, is putting a new twist on raising a youngster and being careful about what he learns now when he’s little.

When he was born, Storm was about 60 pounds.  You read that right – about 60 pounds.  At birth.  Storm is a Scottish Highland calf, a sturdy baby bull with fantastic eyelashes and red shaggy fur.  At the moment, he’s laying a few feet away.  He is the official House Calf.  

Despite having a great mom, Storm was unable to nurse, and so he became a bottle baby.  And then he got sick, which led to a pen in the living room, which led to his official status as House Calf.  Bitter cold and insufficient immunity due to lack of colostrums means he may stay a while.

I’m finding it interesting to notice what’s the same and what’s different from raising a pup.  Turns out, in the basics, raising a healthy, happy, well adjusted baby is the same whatever the species.

He is partially housetrained, which is nice.  Storm has less concerns about neatness than the average pup, but he does like cleaner better.  He’s willing to let us stick a bucket under him when he pees.  Accidents end up in layers of thick blankets on top of absorbent pads on top of a tarp.  The whole look does clash a bit with the Salvation Army furniture.  However, Storm’s staggeringly long eyelashes make up for that.

Just like a puppy, in the belief that we’re training him, we’ve become spectacularly well trained.  Storm stands up, and one of us alerts, “He’s up!”  (We’ve said that so much that now one of the parrots says it too, but thankfully, not often.)  The red bucket works for outflow capture, promptly flushed away.  Neat.  Clean.  Easy.  Or I should say that worked nicely when he was younger.  Pretty much, if he stood up he was going to pee.  And once the flow started, he’d stand there till done.  

Now, 2 months old, he sometimes stands up and pees just a tiny bit and then stops.  Or stands and mucks around for quite some time before peeing.  This has brought out the inner gambler in me and my husband.  Comfortable reading or working or knitting or watching a movie, we try to estimate how much time we’ve got before that bucket really has to be in place.   Like most gamblers, we’re wrong a lot of the time.  Which then pushes us to leap up faster next time and not miss the fun.  Which apparently prompts Storm to practice bladder control until we finally give up, put the bucket away, and settle back down.  At which point – wait for it! – he pees.  Of course.  On this score, we find puppies far easier.

He does not like to poop in his pen, and will wait till he’s outside on a walk, or when we have the bucket ready.  We think that’s very thoughtful.  Like a pup, when he really simply positively has to poop, he tries to move away from his pen.  Unlike a pup, who might whine or bark or scratch at a door, Storm acts like the baby bull he is:  he puts his head against the pen, and pushes.  

Remember those words at the beginning of this article?  Sigh.  It’s been easier to leave his pen not really closed, but just with two panels overlapping a bit unless we were leaving the room.  So when he pushed the first time, it was Mooooooses parting the Red Sea.  He took very good notes about how effective that was.  We noted it was unfortunate that he had noticed how effective that was.  We learned to latch things a bit better, or be prepared to come back to find some dogs dozing on the furniture with the calf curled up chewing his cud on the rug.

We are big believers in teaching our pups to think and problem solve.  While it can be a bit of a double edged sword, we underestimated what that might mean with a calf.  Secured in his pen one fine afternoon after a love fest with guests, Storm wasn’t ready for the party to end.  So naturally he put his curly head against the pen and pushed.  And pushed.  When that didn’t work, he solved the problem in a new way.  He jumped.  The first jump wasn’t perfect, and he and the pen crashed.  The second jump was pretty good. The third jump was perfect.  We knew we were doomed.  Now we’re working on the honor system, more tarps, and building a bigger pen.  A calf who can jump higher than his shoulder height from a standstill may have an Olympic career.

Unlike a puppy, Storm won’t bite us, even in play.  Like all cattle, he has only lower incisors, no uppers or canine teeth so even if he chose to chomp, no real harm done unless we’re made of grass.  He’s also well armed with sharp hooves and a lightning fast kick.  Thankfully, he’s steady, not easily alarmed, not given to kicking when standing still and thinking about things will do.  

Just like a pup, body handling is important. He’s learned to walk on a loose lead and not pull.  To deal calmly with a household full of barking dogs. Like a puppy, he’s being socialized to people and places and things.  To his own kind - he commutes daily to the barn. He takes walks with his favorite person, my husband John, and handling the front porch stairs like a pro.  It’s fun and interesting, and it is also easy to forget that while he’s pushing 125 pounds now, he’s still just a baby, still needs to know a lot about this world.

It is a sacred trust we enter into when we take on raising a young animal. When we get it right, these animal babies grow up confident, happy, able to cope with the human world,  and yet remain fully animal, not substitute children or little people in fur coats.

The sight of our big bull Jim, Storm’s sire, keeps us mindful that what’s cute now may not be so cute when he’s all grown up.  Of course, every day he walks up and down the front steps, I sigh.  I know it’s the only way to get out of the house.  But I’m thinking ahead to a grown up Storm and some aging farmhouse stairs.  Oh my!