When a calf dies, we often try to get the mother to adopt a calf whose mom is either unable or unwilling to take of him. A calf might die because of a birth defect, but the cow will go on to produce healthy calves in later calving seasons. We want to save her, instead of sell her, especially if she is a "good" mom, so we try to keep her milk production up until we have a calf that needs a new mom. Candidates for adoption would be calves whose moms are sick, crazy, or who don't have milk. A sick cow cannot care for her calf because of the physical toll it takes on her body. The crazy cow kicks her calf away, sometimes killing him before we can get to him. Then there is the occasional cow that doesn't make enough milk, and her calf doesn't thrive. In these cases, we will take the calf off its mom and "graft" it to a good mom. A good mom is healthy enough to take care of the calf, has plenty of good quality milk, and likes her calf. She cleans him off when he's born, encourages him to nurse, and stays near him.
Tonight my husband had to put down a calf who wasn't going to pull through a severe infection. We had another calf whose mom wasn't making enough milk, and we'd been bottle-feeding him for at least a week. Bertha brought the live calf down to the shed in the calving pasture. Together we skinned the dead calf. Almost as soon as we were finished, the dead calf's mom walked into the corral, mooing for her calf. She stood right where her calf should have been, sniffing the ground, eyeing us with suspicion. We chased her into a pen right outside the shed. She could hear the sickly calf inside. We took the skin and made holes for his arms and legs. Then we slipped the skin on the calf. It looked like a very warm coat. Then we let the mom inside. She sniffed the calf. She knew something was different, but she kept him close by, mooing softly at him. We coaxed them into the pen, got the cow into the head catch, and positioned the calf to nurse. He took off right away, eagerly slurping down the warm milk. She calmed right down, and pretty soon we let her out of the head catch. The calf went right back to nursing, very peacefully. A situation that could have been sad (for the good mom) and costly (for us) had a happy ending for both.