Raising Calves: How to Keep Going When Things Get Tough

Things are challenging here right now, and it seems to pile on even more when things feel like they are completely out of your control. I’m not just writing this for you, I’m writing this for me too. Because no matter what you do, what you know, or how long you have been raising calves, sometimes you just need someone to help you bring it back to center and try again. 

I am going to go through my process on how I get through tough times when raising calves. 

  1. Breathe, maybe cry a little. Just take a minute to let it all out. Bottling up your emotions isn’t going to help you or anyone around you. All it does is cause you to blow up at the wrong people at the wrong time because you have tried way too hard to hold it all in. It doesn’t make you any less tough if you cry, if anything it shows how much you care about these little creatures, and how much it hurts you to see them anything but healthy. 
  2. Call someone (or multiple people) you know and trust. Whether that be your vet, a feed representative from your long time supplier, or your mentor (thanks, mom!) that helped you get started, find someone to call and have them come to the barn with you. Have them spend some time looking at the calves, bounce ideas off of each other, and vent a little if you feel like that will help. Don’t try to do this alone. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, the same is true for raising calves. 
  3. Go back to the basics. Start taking every temperature, writing down every droopy ear or missed meal, check tails for scours multiple times a day, check your solids level in your milk, send in milk samples, and manure samples to see what might be causing a problem. Double-check your protocols and check in with your employees to make sure that, one, they know what’s going on (you aren’t mad at them, you’re just frustrated with the situation), and two, that they are doing all the right things, and not doing something small by accident that could be adding to the problem a little bit at a time. 
  4. Record EVERYTHING. If this ever happens again, or happens to someone else, being able to go back and look at what you did, what worked, and what didn’t could be a huge help to them and you. Take pictures, take notes, do whatever you can to help you remember for the future.
  5. Whether the problem is in your control or not, decide what you CAN do today. That might be looking into increased vaccines, possibly starting to give prophylactic medication, or running some medication in the feed to keep everyone going (consult your veterinarian!). You might need to start checking calves an extra time every day. You might need to get more cleaning done. Whatever the problem, there is always something that you can do on your end to help, even if it’s just a little bit.
  6. Make the choice to humanely euthanize animals when the time comes. When going through hard times with animals, you have to always consider the quality of life going forward. Even if the animal does make it through this, what does the rest of their life look like? Will they be living in pain or suffering? If so, you have to put their quality of life above your feelings and make the right choice. Just so you know, that never gets any easier, so don’t feel bad if you take it hard. 
  7. Look for small victories. It doesn’t have to be something crazy. It can be something as simple as, awesome, everyone ate tonight! Spend a little time petting, snuggling, or just sitting with the calves. Sometimes when things get hard, I will make it a point to take 5 minutes during chores to walk outside and look at the sunrise or sunset. It’s something that has always helped me bring everything back into perspective, and realize that things could be a lot worse and I’m doing the best I can with what I have. 
Smile, snuggle a calf!

Going through times where things aren’t going your way can be more than challenging, but if you just use a few of these things to help you through, I know you can keep going and figure everything out. I promise things will get better, and someday you will look back on this time and think wow, things were bad, but look how much I learned, and look how far I have gotten since then!

If you ever need a mentor, friend, or a shoulder to lean on when your calves are having a hard time, our inbox is always open! Please reach out if you want to vent, have questions, or are just having a crappy day. We have been there!

By: Brooke Vanderloop, Calf Manager at AVA Group Inc., Calf Consultant

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