Most of our Red Ruby Devon cattle calve in the spring but, each year, some of the heifers and cows calve at other times of year.
This week one of our cows produced a fine, strong Devon bull calf. We had realised for a few days that she was about to give birth. There are a number of tell-tale signs that a good herdsman can see clearly and so we were prepared.
A strong calf will stand up, sometimes unsteadily, within minutes of birth and is soon suckling its mother. If the calf is slow to get up the mother will lick it vigorously…..which usually prompts it into action! It is only rarely that we need to intervene.
We run what is called a “suckler herd”. This means that the calves stay with their mothers for six months or more. During this time they “suckle”, receiving plentiful supplies of milk from their mothers. This means that they grow strongly, feeding on both grass and milk, putting on weight rapidly.
In Devon we call these “buss calves”. Apparently this is a dialect word derived from the Gaelic “bos” meaning “mouth”, reminding us that that they are sucklers, feeding from their mother’s milk.
The more usual, modern word for these suckler calves is “stirks” but down in deepest Devon we are a bit old-fashioned and many of us stick to the old expression of “buss calves”!