Bison are wild animals. Unlike a puppy or kitten, who would naturally accept our affections, Bob wanted nothing to do with us...at first. He was very weak, and judging by his umbilical cord, was likely already 24 hours old, with no milk. Without colostrum, the cow's first milk, his chances of survival were almost zero. Since he wanted nothing to do with us, and bottle feeding being our only option, it was not going to be easy to get him fed, and indeed it wasn't easy! Steve, our neighbour, brought his hired man over with him, and together, they held him, stood over him, and held his head in place. The hired man put a finger in Bob's mouth to check for a sucking reflex. It was there! The finger came out and almost simultaneously the bottle went in, and Bob was drinking from the bottle. Success! I was surprised it took 2 men to control him and get him to drink. After getting a couple of cups into him, we put him into his new pen, with fresh straw to lay on, and Bob had a good sleep.
About 4 hours later, I went out with his next feed of powdered colostrum. Imitating the earlier actions of the men, I stood over top of Bob, lifted his head and with one finger, opened his mouth from the side where there were no teeth. He opened and took the bottle, but it took all my strength to keep him in place. He wanted to run from me, even though he also wanted the milk. Half an hour later, I was sticky with leaked colostrum, dirty from rubbing him, and had arms and legs of jello from trying to manage him and keep him in place to drink. Regardless, he was already a joy and we were already growing attached to him. He was gentle in spirit, and so vulnerable.
Feedings continued, even in the middle of the night. It was 2:30 a.m., 8 degrees, raining and windy. As I stepped outside in my insulated rubber boots, and layers of clothing and rain gear, a flash of lightning lit up the path to Bob's pen, followed by a clap of thunder in the distance. On I went. Bob needed that milk. He was standing, waiting for me, and this time, he took his bottle greedily, It was a good sign. Bed felt good at 3:00 when I finally crawled back in, but it was after 4:00 until I could wind down again and get some sleep.
The next day dawned clear and sunny, and it was a good day for Bob. Our neighbour came over to check on him, and brought along a representative from the bison industry. Bob was on his best behaviour, and after his feed, stood beside me with his head contentedly touching my leg. 'Look...he knows you're his mom', said Steve. It felt good. Bob was attaching, and thriving.
I wish I could say the story continued in this way, and that Bob grew and thrived. However, sometimes the harsh realities of nature are exactly that....harsh. On day 3, Bob took a turn for the worse, and gradually went downhill. Within about 12 hours, he had passed away. His very beginnings in life, in isolation, and with no colostrum, eventually overwhelmed his system and with no immunity, he was unable to sustain life.
Would we do it again? In a heartbeat! In fact, about a month after this story, we did do it again, and sadly, the results were the same. Each time with an animal, we learn more about them, and how to help them. Perhaps the next time will be different.
Grain and fruit farming is what I know. Large animals were never on our farm and are not a natural default for me. Having an experience with a large animal calf was a great learning curve, and one for which I'm so grateful. Farmers LOVE their animals. Whatever the animal, it is a living being, and one to whom farmers have a certain fondness and attachment. It's more than a business and the bottom dollar, although realistically, that is, of course, also part of the big picture.
Cherries are the dominant feature on our farm. Other fruit varieties add to the diversity, and dogs and cats add a lot of fun and life. It's not likely we'll be adding large animals anytime in the near (or distant) future, but having Bob was an experience I wouldn't trade. As calving season draws to a close for this year, it's not likely there will be any more abandoned calves coming our way, but perhaps next year we can give a different report!