Following abandonment by his mother, I carried Bini, the newborn calf, to a holding pen across the farm where we could manage his first few weeks. He needed regular feedings, monitoring, interaction, and most importantly, he needed to bond with his adoptive mother—which would be me—the latter being paramount in order for him to rejoin the herd.
He enjoyed warm milk four times each day in increasing amounts, but food represented only a fraction of what he needed. Like all kids, he required play, time to investigate the world, time to lounge away from his hay bed, affection, a sense of safety and belonging, and a plethora of simple needs his mother would usually provide.
Except his mother had abandoned him, rejected him in favor of her second calf, Bini’s twin. So it fell on me to fulfill his early needs and desires, to be his Mr. Mom as it were.
Though we had four scheduled feedings, I also visited him many other times throughout each day to give him time outside the isolation pen where he slept (and that kept him safe both from the outside world and from potential harm or escape from the holding pen). We played, we explored, we bonded.
Sometimes I would just sit on the ground and let him rest his head in my lap as he slept. Sometimes I would stand back and let him meander about investigating the world.
And sometimes I would have him follow me around so I could force him to face challenges, obstacles like walking across uneven ground and meeting the horse and donkey through the fence.
I even had to teach him how to pee and poop. Human children do these things automatically, but many mammalian young need guidance the first time, help getting the plumbing going if you will.
As children will be children, however, a great deal of our time was spent in play. Great gamboling gobs of play.
Whether after feeding or play or just spending time together, he eventually would return to his hay bed in the isolation pen, sometimes willingly and sometimes by me carrying him (a progressively difficult task).
Despite feeling heartbroken at the begging sound of his young bellowing voice as I walked away, I knew I’d return. And so did he.
In the end, we had bonded solidly and I had become his Mr. Mom, trusted entirely, sought after for food as much as for folly and welfare, loved by a young calf less than two weeks old.
Thus we came to Bini’s most daunting challenge to date—relocation to the main pasture and reintroduction to the herd, including his estranged mother and sibling.
Ten days following his birth and after ten days of me bonding with him, I felt he was ready for Bini’s big adventure.