Mike the Moose is settling in nicely at Jack and Ann Hirschy’s ranch, nursing his bottle three times a day along with Liz the Red Angus heifer and strolling into the kitchen.
A moose in the kitchen is nothing new for the Hirschys: They’ve done this before.
Mike has been their ward for about a month, ever since another ranch family spotted him among their yearling heifers.
They watched for a couple of days to be sure his mother was not returning.
“They knew we had a moose once, so they called to ask if we could take it,” said Ann.
“They said he was going crazy out in their field and he was hungrier than the devil.”
Every morning, just as the sun shows up over the Big Hole Valley, Mike and a red Angus calf named Liz get their breakfast bottle. Then the young moose follows the family back into their kitchen to await the buzzer that announces the ranch family’s morning meal is on at the cookhouse.
The Hirschys feed the pair, who have become nearly inseparable, three times a day.
Liz is a twin whose mother didn’t have enough milk for two.
Ann said she knew from her last experience as a foster moose parent that Mike would need a companion. The Hirschys raised another orphaned moose calf, Hannibal, for three years until it decided to return to the wild about three years ago.
That first experience is paving the way for Mike. They notified Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Mark Anderson when Mike first arrived.
Anderson said Mike is in good hands. People experienced in taking care of orphaned animals often don’t have good luck with raising a baby moose, he said.
“They tell me it’s almost like they die of a broken heart,” he said.
“Ann has been very successful at raising the little animals, and the family lives in the middle of some of the best moose habitat in the Big Hole,” Anderson said. “The moose can come and go as it pleases, and I’m sure it will go when it’s time.”
However, Anderson reiterated that it’s usually a mistake - and sometimes illegal - for people to take in baby animals that they think have been abandoned. About 99 percent of the time, the mother is nearby and will return when the intruding humans leave, Anderson said.
In the Hirschys’ case, it was certain the moose had been abandoned and would have died if someone hadn’t intervened, he said.