Poddy calves – four legged kids

Host: Noreena Downs Station
Written by: Kate Paull – Owner/Manager, Noreena Downs Station.

Yes, some of you reading this are probably thinking “Who in hell would do a blog on poddy calves?”. Well none the less they are an interesting species in their own little way and are a big part of station life.

A poddy calf (some people call them bobbys) is an orphan calf that you take in, or it may have lost its mother and have been fending for itself for some time. The ones you take in, either their mother died, they were born from an old cow so you thought you might take it to better it’s survival, attacked by dingos, or the cow had bottle teats.

Bottle teats is when the cows teats widen to the size of approx nine cm or more in diameter and when the calf is little with its little mouth it can’t get on to suckle. Bottle teats are caused from mastitis, infection, bad genetics, over milk production, or losing/weaning a calf too young which leads to mastitis and infection. Each cow is generally born with six teats, only four actually lactate milk – these four teats are connected to the udder where the milk is stored.

I will admit outright I am just a sucker for poddies even if they are ugly, don’t like me, or are extremely bad tempered. As kids my siblings Niffy, Chooky, Joe, and I used to raise poddies every year and somehow the novelty just hasn’t worn off for me; people have pets such as dogs, cats, birds, snakes, goats, horses, little pigs, so do I just poddies.

4.1Hoppy being sun smart and ready for work.

Hoppy is just so cute and is occasionally a sitting duck for a gag. She is a shorthorn, Joe found her in Peedonah’s pump enclosure with no cow (mother) in sight, dingos must have chased her there and she was hungry and had a swollen front foot, so he bought her home in his ute with the aircon. She drank straight away but her foot got worse (broken) she couldn’t use it and would hop along on three legs. This went on for seven weeks when one day I put my Bioflow sport bracelet on her leg down towards the foot and 13 days later she lost the bracelet and a while later she could walk on all fours (yay it worked!). The bones in the foot look a mess but that doesn’t stop Hopstar speed racing her mates.

For the majority of poddies at Noreena Downs it starts something like this: I will be doing a bore run and I might spot a calf that has been alone for awhile or one that is not doing so well on mum, so I observe for a while, like a predator working out its prey, then I will stay in the car and drive through the cattle (majority of our cattle are taught to not run from a vehicle) and get closer to the calf, keeping in mind to be very patient. When I feel I am close enough to the target without upsetting the kid I stop car then get out steadily. If there is a tree blocking the calf’s view from me I use it as a shield or I just have to sneak out on open ground. I always stay in a bit of a blind spot straight behind the tail, and once close enough I grab the tail with one hand and then one back leg with the next and then attempt to get to the front real quick to grab the head and put a hand under the chin, a lot of the time that calf may have looked on it’s way out but by god they can fire up, run flat cookie, double barrel, turn back on you. Yep some are just fighters! If I have succeeded, pop calfy into the motorcar and home I go.

I put the calf in a secure pen at home with shade and hopefully a bit of grass left over, and leave them alone for a couple of hours if they’re firecrackers to let them calm down, if they are not so wired I feed them straight away. If we are in the mustering season we always give our cook the option of looking after the poddies as it is a special responsibility and such a treat (ha-ha according to me) for someone that hasn’t done it before.

4.2How can you go past that smooch cute shorthorn face? Hoppy ready for Christmas.

We use powered cow milk that comes in 20kg bags costing anywhere from $95 to $150. First off I use a bottle filled with calf milk with a teat on it and then I try to get them to drink. Some suck straight away, the ones that don’t you have to try all your tricks to get them to drink. I have had plenty calves that don’t suck for days, it is generally due to them being a bit freaked by you or their mother’s memory is still on them.

Once they drink on the bottle they go onto cafeterias (a big plastic rectangle open top container with partitions and calf teats). When I was younger I use to get my bucket of milk, dunk my hand in it and let the calf suck my fingers while poking out of the milk just enough so the calf could consume the milk. Cafeterias are great for the calves as the teats get them to produce saliva which aids in digestion.

4.3Drinkee times on the calf cafeterias and Hoppy, White Face, and Barney with cattle export caps as a gag and Missy without.

Newborns are fed three times daily and calves approx. past three weeks two times daily, once I start to wean (after four months) I ease into it by one feed a day and then every second day.

The calves are also put on hay, minimal pellets (the acidity and grain in long term pellet feed can damage their stomachs for later life) and grass that is in the house paddock (43 acres). This is where they get to roam free throughout their childhood days until weaned (weaning is to take them off milk) and old enough to fend for themselves where they will be put out at the house mill to begin their life as they were meant to be as a cattle beast. Sounds unmotherly that last bit hey, unfortunately for me I had to learn the hard way, I use to pamper my poddies too much and in the drought I lost all my older ones except Milky and a few younger ones, the lesson is pampered cattle struggle in a drought, you need to be hard to be kind. Don’t worry I don’t turn my back on my weaned poddies, some are still very well bonded to me and we have lots of catch ups.

photo by Nicolle Versteeg PhotographyMe, Boris, and Curly having a catch up.

I can tell what my poddies will look like frame-wise when they are older. It’s all about their HEAD, it’s an indicator, think about it our heads are in uniform with our body to make it suit us, well animals are the same. You may be thinking woman you are spaco and weird but serious peeps I have been testing myself on this for years with cattle and people and my guess always comes through, try it then you might see where I’m going with this.


Forehead width – wide = wide across the backline, narrow = narrow across the backline

Head length – long = long body and tall, short = short body height and lengthwise

Big muzzle = big eater, will do well

Hard chiselled head = rough body and run out generally ugly

Soft contour head with rounding in the skull above the eyes = good body with muscling

To understand the bond between poddies and their carer, I am going to tell you a few yarns.

Slobbering Boris

Boris I found on a mill run, his mum had gone down (sat down and lost the use of her limbs due to illness), given birth and couldn’t get up. Boris was still sticky, wet, and huge and probably only popped out 20 mins prior, already hungry I put him on his mum’s teats so he could get his first colostrum (immunity and antibody in milk – must have or more than likely will die somewhere along the line), but this calf was a pig and had no patience so he lost his patience with the teats and starting slobbering over me. So I tried milking mum into a pannikin (enamel cup) to feed this big boofhead but that proved difficult with this calf just latching onto me and head butting. I would run around the cow to get him to lose interest in me, but no that didn’t work he was right there, after a while I got a bit of milk into him, it was starting to get late and thought I can’t leave this calf here mum can’t get up yet and dingos might come, so into the vehicle big slobbering still uncleaned calf he went and back to the homestead.

I went back the next day to check the cow, but no good so I had to euthanize her, for me it was sad as she was a middle age biddy that had been part of my Fosters mill run for several years and she was a character.

As a little poddy Boris would stick to me like glue whenever he could, walk along with me when I used to get the naughty poddies to come in for their feed, slobber on my legs, if he saw me on the four wheeler he would stroll straight up to it no fear, chase you if you drove off .

Boris is now 16 months old and been weaned for ages, but he still slobbers on my legs and wants attention and loves smoothies, jam filled doughnuts and chocolate doughnuts, yes you read right this dude has a sweet tooth.

I’m Boris’ mother for life.

photo by Nicolle Versteeg PhotographyBoris always wants attention and he generally gets it, he’s getting a cuddle from me and doing what he does best ‘slobber’.

Milky the immaculate conceptor

As I said earlier in my poddy calf blog I lost all my older poddies in the drought except for Milky, then came the time in the drought where I nearly lost her. Milky’s life started off with me in August 2001, she was left behind by her stinking rotten mother along with three other wee calves, (it was a bad muster that went very wrong). Milky was a minute little snowflake, so tiny, white, and well adorable, she grew up with Slurps, Randy, and Larry.

Randy loved Milky for some really weird reason used to always watch over her, lick her, chase Ding (awesome Dingo/red heeler dog Niffy had – best dog out) away from her when Ding got a bit curious. To this day I have never seen another bond between calves like it. Randy and I never bonded, he hated me flat outright, Niffy had to be the one to put him on the cafeterias, but kick by god he was good at it, flying doubles and quick side stab lunges he had them all. Randy once weaned was steered (castrated) and sent to one of our farms down south where he wreaked havoc, god bless him.

Milky used to like the nut bars with yoghurt on them (health fiend) or straight outright yoghurt bars. One day I found Milky at Finney’s bore with a little new calf, sweet, oh no not so sweet, she had prolapsed (collapsed uterus). Michael and I put some portable panels around her and I tried to put the prolapse back in, sometimes if you get it in time quick enough and you get it clean and pop it back in gently (revert it), hold your hand there until it starts to go back over the pelvic bone and wait to see if it stays in.

It popped back out, my heart broke this would mean I would have to euthanize her, I wasn’t having any of this, I had already lost my other poddies by this stage, home I went rung the Newman Vet and got him to come out to the station two days later to do an operation on her. People get their pets operated on all the time right?

So off Michael and I go on our bikes to bring them back to the homestead yards, luckily Finney’s is a reasonably short distance, for two days we kept the prolapse clean, vet turns up, due to the uterus going necrotic he had to remove the uterus, all of it OUT. I have never fainted but watching blood squirting out of the veins on the uterus from my cow I nearly did, a couple hours later lots of suturing etc. Milky was done and without a uterus, the vet looked at me sternly and said “She still might not live from this op and she has no uterus so she can’t get in calf and if she somehow miraculously does it will kill her” famous last words buddy.

The same day we got the vet to emasculate Duncan the donkey; if he was left entire we were worried he might get nasty. Milky survived and recovered in wonderful form thanks to the marvellous vet.

I still have her roaming around in our steer paddock to date, fat and happy and I weaned a Mickey calf off her last year, no probs and she’s due again soon.

Little Miracles.

4.6I get home one day to find my poddies having a party with the hay, Wild Thing has climbed up on top of the bale to get best pickings.

 Mighty Missy

I got Missy this December gone with the help of Nathan, her mother had died. She was severely dehydrated and nearly buggered, as we picked her up we realised she had been bitten in two places on the rear and a few minors on body, she was in a state of a horrible infection from the bites and panting which meant she was in a bad way.

Over a course of a couple days and one antibiotic injection, she got past the worse shock part, but the absolute worse was still to come. Her bites turned to three which then turned to four then five, the infection was under the skin and travelling and rotting her flesh and bursting open, one that burst open on her rear left leg was on the inside of the leg measuring 28cm long and 11cm wide at the top, her tendons and ligaments were fully exposed, not a pretty sight and she had lost majority of walking use of the left leg.

I probably should have euthanized her at that stage but through the whole time has never shown any sign of being depressed or wanting to give up and die, this kid’s character is unbreakable.

So I took a huge punt and kept her sores clean, bought her antibiotics, occasionally dressed the wounds and put a mixture of ointments on.

A bit later I got her to drink milk, which she loves and DOES NOT APPRECIATE anyone stealing her teat, give it back or get drilled (so funny to watch when she’s the littler one). She started to heal reasonably quickly on the inner gashed out back leg surprisingly, it has nearly healed just nasty scaring, but one other sore is still on the mend.

Then was the issue of her leg usage, she couldn’t walk with it just drag it, my sister Chooky was up from down south a bit and she helped me to do a splint for it. I took the splint off eight days later and it still didn’t look to good.

A few days later could start noticing little differences. YAY she was on the mend! Missy is still not a 100% on her leg although she punches in a good effort everyday following the other poddies around, but in the foreseeable future she will no doubt be able to gallop miles without a hitch, probably from the helicopter.

Missy is her mother’s daughter without a doubt; her mother (strange colour looked like a Murray grey Brahman cross) was in a paddock for further education for being a ratbag. Missy is not a pretty creature and has her mother’s temperament all of which are not desirable traits for breeding, but she will be fertile and she will stay at Noreena Downs for backgrounding traits such as never gives up, hard to kill, pain resistant and always looking on the bright side, let’s face it not all cattle can be wrapped in wool, you need fighters as well.

PS: Missy still hates dogs and moo growls when our pet dogs come too near, she will make an awesome Mum, and no dingo will even get a sniff at her calf.

Well I will have to stop writing here and go feed the poddies, no jokes I can hear Hoppy and Missy belting their lungs out, I think Hoppy is about to get on the veranda which means a short time later and she will be in this room.