Updated: Feb 4
I was about six and my older brother, Bubba, was ten or so. We were both competing in the California Junior Rodeo circuit. He was a roper on his horse, Cooper. I was a fierce little barrel racer, pole bender, and goat tyer. I had one goal in sight: to win the title of Pee Wee All-Around Cowgirl. It was a misty morning in May. Lynn Devenport, the head cowboy at San Pasqual Valley Ranch, where Bubba and I rodeoed, gave us a call. “We have a little heifer calf born last night, just lost her mamma. We need somebody to bottle feed her,” he said.
We were all excited when mom agreed. We’d felt the emptiness in the pasture ever since Norman left earlier that year. Norman was another rescue calf, a little fawn Jersey calf with big eyes and thick lashes. He’d been a little bundle of joy who would go and do just about anything for his bottle. I missed running around the farm with him, playing tag. Weighing about a third as much as him at the time, I would run through the orchard, blooming with red and white blossoms, with his bottle. He would lope after me as fast as he could, lowing all the way. If he could catch me, he got a sip of milk; if not, the game of tag continued. But Norman, as we knew he would, grew too big for our tiny, Olivenhain hobby farm. Once weaned, he had to leave us for larger pastures in Nevada. And now Mom was agreeing to a new baby? I was overjoyed.
A few hours later we were off with the empty horse trailer, winding through the countryside to pick up the little heifer calf. Once we were home, we put a water trough in the trailer and some shavings on the ground. It would serve as her temporary home until she was strong enough for the pasture. As mom went inside to fix her a bottle, I stayed seated in the trailer, leaning against the wall. The little heifer positioned herself in the farthest corner possible, her wide eyes full of fear. I turned away so she wouldn’t feel threatened. “I’m not gonna hurt you,” I whispered.“Welcome to your new home.”Her breathing was heavy and I could feel her tiptoe up behind me until I felt her warm breath on the back of my neck.
At that moment mom stepped into the trailer holding a bottle, frightening the calf back to the corner. She was a skittish little thing but once caught I held onto her tightly while Mom eased the bottle into her mouth. It wasn’t more than a second before the calf let the bottle slip out of her mouth. After several more failed attempts, we decided to come back in a few hours to try again once she was more accustomed to her new home, but again and again, she refused to drink. It’s critical for a calf to get milk within the first 24 hours after birth. As the sun began to disappear that evening, so did the calf’s strength. As things grew desperate, were sorted to using a syringe in an attempt to get something into the heifer’s stomach. From then on, every feeding time was a struggle. We all took turns and all ended up soaked with milk and exhausted. The minute we tried to put the bottle in her mouth, she would clamp her jaw, shut her eyes, and silently communicate that she would rather die than drink from a bottle. As the days went on, she grew thinner and weaker, until she was just a frail skeleton draped in a blanket of fur. That weekend Bubba and I had a rodeo. With no other choice, we cleared out the tack room of the trailer and the calf came along too. With so many experienced cattlemen there, Mom was hopeful that someone would have some advice for feeding the calf. But each person had the same reaction. They would all try with the bottle for a few minutes and then say, “That calf’s not gonna make it.”
Hope grew thin for the calf as time went on. That is until one day when it was Bubba’s turn to “feed her.” Not 15 minutes after he went out to the trailer, he came running back to the house. “Mom! Sissy! She’s nursing on Daisy!” Mom was just as confused as I was. Daisy, our miniature Jersey cow, was dry as a bone, having never had a baby of her own. So what did Bubba mean by this? “I took her on a little walk over to the barnyard. She was licking Daisy through the fence so I let her in the pasture. Right away, she started trying to nurse and hasn’t stopped.” Mom and I had to see this for ourselves. As we approached the pasture, we saw exactly what Bubba had described. The little calf was suckling her heart out. Although Daisy had no milk to offer, being with Daisy seemed to lift the little heifer’s spirits. That being said, she was as reluctant as ever to take a bottle. As the days went on, we began to notice that the calf’s normally sunken mid-section was beginning to fill out slightly, but the calf’s bottle-feeding habits had not changed. Could it be possible? Could Daisy, the dry cow, actually be making milk to feed this orphaned calf? Yes. The stimulation from the calf’s constant suckling had induced lactation in Daisy. We later learned that this is a rare but scientifically possibly phenomenon in dairy cattle.
Soon Daisy was making enough milk to feed the calf entirely on her own. Daisy didn’t especially appreciate the calf’s suckling, but did, however, love to be brushed and pampered. If we fussed over Daisy then she would stand still and allow the calf to nurse. The animal lovers around the neighborhood were all too happy to help assist in this task. Every two to four hours, our neighbors would take shifts brushing Daisy. Daisy loved the love, and the calf loved the milk. Daisy became more tolerant of nursing as the days went on, and as a result, the calf grew bigger and stronger each day. As we could see the calf was out of the woods now, we decided she needed a name. “What about Beezus?” Mom suggested.I had been reading a lot of Beverly Cleary at the time and especially loved the Ramona books in which Ramona’s big sister goes by Beezus. “Beezus,” I repeated. I looked down at the dainty, little, fawn calf with her big, black eyes and thick, black eyelashes contently chewing her cud in the soft straw. The name seemed to suit her.
As spring turned into summer, Beezus grew and grew. She and Daisy loved each other, and it was clear that Daisy thought of Beezus as her own. If we came out to the pasture after dark, we would often shine our lantern on a sleeping Beezus nestled up beside Daisy. As Beezus neared her 10-month birthday she was almost ready to wean. She was getting a little too big to nurse on Daisy and it was easy to tell that Daisy was ready for Beezus to transition to a completely solid diet. Daisy would only allow her to nurse at certain times of the day and would just keep walking if Beezus tried nursing. Beezus was becoming a grown-up as so many babies do. Soon Beezus had grown enough that it was clear the time had come to find her a permanent home.
There was a boy a little older than Bubba who roped at Lynn’s at the same time as us, named Timmy Robinson. He was looking for a little calf that he could practice calf tying on. When he came to meet and buy Beezus he fell in love. It was pretty clear he was probably not going to use her for anything more than being his best friend. It was a bittersweet goodbye but we’d known all along that she would only be with just temporarily. It did help a tremendous bit to know that she had found a happily ever after.
Beezus would always have a place in the hearts of everyone she touched, especially Daisy’s.
Beezus was not the only calf Daisy saved and fostered. After Beezus came Lover Boy and then sometime later, Reeses Peanut Butter. Reeses was a sweet little brown jersey bull calf we rescued at the county fair who loved everyone he met and settled in nicely. Lover Boy was a different Story. The little blue and white spotted calf was a wild thing from the moment he stepped out of the trailer. He loved Daisy, but people weren’t really his thing. We didn’t mind though. It was fun just to watch him skip around the pasture or lick Daisy’s fur until she was soaked. When he grew up and went back to live a Lynn’s, he was the fastest, wildest bull there. In fact, he had a bounty on his head for $600. If anyone could rope him in less than 8 seconds, the money was theirs to keep. I’m sure it was all that good Daisy milk that made him so fast. She does have a way of raising only the best calves.
We continued to milk Daisy after the calves left. And we sold the milk to local families so that they could have fresh, raw, local milk to drink. And when they came to pick up the milk they could go meet the famous cow that made it. Daisy not only saved the calves' lives, but she also changed the lives of the children that met her and she changed mine. It just goes to show that anyone can be a hero even a cow. Thank you, Daisy.