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Ryan Johnson, Forum Communications, Published May 25 2012

Calf orphaned in shooting has llama for a dad, two mother goats

HANKINSON, N.D. – Just a week after her mother and 13 other cattle were shot and killed here, orphaned calf Missy has found an unlikely foster family – two mother goats and a father figure of a llama named Bristol.

David Kluge said it was bad enough to discover the grisly scene at his pasture southwest of Hankinson the morning of May 18. It took a turn for the worse after he sent the orphaned calves to his neighbor’s farm to recover, only to have the youngest – the progeny of a genetic line stretching back 120 years through three generations – refuse to drink from a bottle.

But then, he said, something “amazing” happened.

At her McLeod, N.D., ranch about 40 miles away, Deb Sagvold heard about the shooting and called Kluge to offer her help. She said she read a newspaper article last year about a Montana rancher raising a colt on goat milk, so she recently purchased two milking nanny goats for a stubborn bottle calf of her own and suggested the unusual option for Kluge’s calf.

“He might have been a little skeptical at first,” she said, laughing.

Sagvold said the calf “wasn’t very agreeable to the situation” as they pushed her toward Sharlee, one of the goats. But the calf they have since named Missy “came to life” as soon as she got her first squirt of goat milk earlier this week, and she now takes turns drinking from Sharlee and Sally four times each day.

“It was almost like a miracle,” Kluge said.

Sagvold admitted Sharlee and Sally “don’t love the calf at all,” but a little bribery has made them more cooperative.

“If we would turn them loose and let them run away, they would,” Sagvold said. “We give them apple treats while they’re nursing the calf and just love on them a lot, so it’s a pleasant experience and not a bad thing.”

Another complication is at less than a month old, Missy already is about the same size as her new mothers. That’s why Sagvold puts the goats up on a platform during the feeding, which raises their udders to a cow’s level and keeps Missy from instinctively “bunting” at the goats that are not as thick-skinned as a cow.

But the love Missy lacks from her new mothers has more than been made up by Bristol, a 9-year-old male llama belonging to Sagvold’s son, Daniel.

Sagvold said Bristol has always acted the part of a doting foster parent with calves, helping the babies remain calm and developing a strong bond with as many as a dozen foster children at a time.

“And as we have adopted a calf onto another cow, he would cry for that baby for three or four days,” she said. “He gives them the emotional support and teaches them to forage for food.”

Sagvold said Bristol connected with Missy as soon as he heard her cry as she came to the ranch on Tuesday, and now they are an inseparable pair.

Missy will continue to get her milk from the goats through the summer, and Sagvold will then try to introduce feed to her and see if Bristol has taught her to forage. If things go well, Missy will be back in Kluge’s pasture by the fall and could play a big role in helping him rebuild his cattle operation.

Kluge said the scene of Missy with her new foster family is “pretty cute” and has helped as he reels from the shock of the shooting that Richland County authorities are still investigating.

“This is kind of a bright spot,” he said.

But don’t tell Bristol that his days of being Missy’s protective father are numbered.

“Bristol will mourn,” Sagvold said. “When llamas cry, it sounds like a kitten mewing. It just tears at your heart. But we’ll have to find him another baby.”


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Ryan Johnson writes for the Grand Forks Herald