Patty Jo isn’t like the rest of the cows on the acreage near Pioneers Park.
She’s as long-haired and buff-colored as the other Scottish Highland cattle Toni and Kevin Lewis keep as pets, but she’s having an identity crisis.
She likes her neck scratched. She wags her tail. She loves to go for rides.
“At this point,” Toni said, “we don’t think she knows she’s a cow.”
Said Kevin: “She thinks she’s a puppy now, I think.”
A lucky puppy who owes her life to a pair of horses, her humans and their friends and neighbors. If they all hadn’t come together late last month, Patty Jo would have been frozen in the pasture, and not drawing hundreds of likes and loves on Toni’s Facebook page.
The cows were Toni’s idea. She grew up watching her father raise geese and peacocks, and traveling to exotic animal shows to buy and sell birds.
“They usually had these funny kinds of animals, like Scottish Highlands. And I always said I wanted to get one.”
They got their first a couple of years ago, rehoming it from Hastings. And then they got another, and another, and a bull, and soon they had nine roaming their pasture. Including Emma, who was expected to calve this month.
But two days before Thanksgiving, Kevin woke early and headed out to take care of the animals before work.
“The horses were kind of acting weird,” he told the Lincoln Journal Star. “One was kind of running around, crazy whinnying.”
That was Poncho, tearing around the pasture and running to the barn and back, doing laps and trying to tell him something. Their mare, Sunday, was locked in place, licking something dark and crumpled on the ground.
Kevin shot a short video with his phone and then got closer.
“I just saw the baby calf laying there. I jumped the fence and ran and grabbed the calf and ran to the barn.”
The animal was just 25 pounds, less than half of her full-term weight, and as limp as a dishrag.
She was also wet and cold, so Kevin and son Ben got to work toweling her off. The barn wasn’t warm enough, with the temperature barely above freezing that morning, so they carried the calf to their heated shop.
But Kevin had to go to work, so he called his mother, who lives on the property.
“He’s, like: ‘Well, Mom, what are you doing today?'” Toni said. “She stayed in the shop and tried to keep her (the calf) warm for most of the day.”
More help arrived. A neighbor who raises dairy cattle brought a bottle with a tube that reached the calf’s stomach, to make sure the calf got the colostrum she needed.
A veterinarian friend urged them to keep the animal warm, so they drew a warm bath for her in a feed tub.
Another neighbor arrived to help the calf find her feet, and spent a half-hour propping her up.
They didn’t forget about the calf’s mother. They tried to reunite the two, but Emma was having nothing to do with the calf. They put her in a chute to try to draw milk, but the cow was dry.
“Usually, the motherly thing kicks in,” Toni said. “But it didn’t for her.”
So it was up to Patty Jo’s humans. They rigged a dog bed with heating pads and a blanket, and Kevin spent the night in the shed by the baby’s side, trying to get her to eat.
The next day, she was drinking half of a bottle. Then a full one. Patty Jo — named after Kevin’s mother, who spent that first touch-and-go day with her — has grown stronger since, up to nearly 50 pounds now.
“By Thanksgiving, she was like a whole new cow,” Toni said.
But not quite. She’s acting more like a dog, tolerating her Christmas sweater, following her humans around the farmyard and checking in with the other animals, especially the horses that found her in the pasture, Toni said.
“They like to make sure she’s OK.”