Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Tale of Two Calves

On Sunday evening, we went over to tend the cows. I measured out the milk powder, mixed it up and got Oliver's bottle ready for him. Jason and Seth got the dogs and cats fed then hopped on the four-wheeler to go check the herd. Oliver is getting the hang of taking his bottle and doing very well. He went to town sucking down his milk and I figured Oliver would be done and I'd have everything washed up and finished by the time Jason and Seth got back. Yippeee! We get to go home and not have to spend two hours working to get Oliver to suck on his bottle!
Jason came up the pasture on the four-wheeler but instead of Seth behind him, he had a calf. I followed him up to the house and got there as he was taking the limp little body from the rack. I thought it must be dead. Even when Oliver was at his weakest he could hold his head up. As Jason lay the little body on the grass, we could see that he was breathing. His eyes were a little rolled back and sunken in and his breathing was labored. I went to fix a bottle to try to get some nutrition into him.
When you give a calf a bottle they should be standing up but this little guy was way too weak. We propped him up as best we could and Jason held his head up while I worked with his mouth, trying to get him to suck. We were afraid he would be too weak to suck but after a bit he latched on. He worked slowly but eventually he took down about three pints of milk. Oliver usually takes four so we were impressed this calf had the strength to take that much.
Jason said when he found him, the calf was in tall grass along the fence, covered in flies. None of the other cows were paying it any attention and they didn't even look up when he picked the calf up and carried it over to the four wheeler.
The calf was dirty and had flaky residue on him that made it seem his mama hadn't even cleaned him off. He was a good couple of a days old, though, certainly not a newborn.
We couldn't reach Jason's folks so Jason decided to run down the road to our friend's home. She is awesome with cows and has helped a lot with the herd. Jason left while Seth and I stayed with the calf. I sat on the ground and pulled the calf onto my lap and we rubbed and scratched him. Once in a while he would lift his head a little bit.
After some time, Jason came walking back up the driveway. Seems the four-wheeler ran out of gas half way there. Gotta love that! So Seth and Jason took off in the van with a gas can and soon Seth came rippin' back up on the four-wheeler.
Jason came back in the van with our friend's husband (Mr. Friend). He had a special bottle with a tube that goes down the throat into the stomach through which he was able to give the calf some electrolytes and then gave him a shot to help boost the calf up some. We're so glad to have such good friends to help us!
There was nothing more for us to do that night so we put him in the pen with Oliver and hoped for the best.
Yesterday morning I went down for morning feeding. As I drove by the pen I saw that the calf was in a different spot from where we had left him. I was so excited! He had moved himself!
I fixed two bottles and hurried down. I was able to get the calf up on his feet and he stood. I got the bottle in his mouth but he would only latch on, not suck. I worked with him for a while trying to get him to swallow the milk but he wouldn't. He pulled back and fought me a little bit. I was thrilled to see him getting feisty.
Finally, I pulled the bottle from his mouth and there were all these little white worms all over the nipple. Yikes!!!!!!!! Gag!!!!!!!! Bleh!!!!! O.k., I'm supposed to be a cow girl, I can handle this, right?!!!! Gah!!!!!
I moved the calf into a pen away from Oliver (in case it was contagious) and fed Oliver right quick (man am I glad he can eat quickly now!). Off to the vet I started.
On the way I called my friend to let her know about the worms because I was afraid we had contaminated her bottle. She asked me to stop by on my way. She told me it was screw fly maggots and that is isn't uncommon. It isn't normal for them to get in the mouth like that, but sometimes calves do get the maggots on them and need to be sprayed. She had a spray she gave me and said I might call the vet just to see if there is more to do.
The vet recommended that I irrigate the mouth with Hydrogen Peroxide, then wash the calf since his mother never cleaned him, and then wash his mouth out. (welcome to country life--where dirty mouths still get the washing-out treatment!)
I grabbed a healthy supply of my aqua blue nitrile gloves on my way out the door this time, I was going prepared! Good thing we have a nice box of big syringes too, huh? Sometimes they come in handy for things besides water fights!
Geared up and ready to go, I tackled the calf. I irrigated his mouth and got it all cleaned out. I hosed him down and washed him all up. I rubbed him dry and then I sprayed him down. I sprayed Oliver just for good measure since he doesn't have a mama to clean him up too.
I was just going up to the house to fix a bottle of colostrum when my friend came up the driveway. Did I mention she's awesome?!!!!!
We decided I'd go to the house to fix the bottle while she went down and had a look at the cows to see if she could find the mama. Next thing I know, she's got the calf up on the back of the four-wheeler (you should have seen me struggling just to get him into a little tub I could pull him around in! did I feel like a wuss or what?!!!). She took off and went around with the cows but couldn't get any of them to claim him or even give him any notice.
She brought the calf back up and we worked to give him a bottle. The calf was too weak to suck so she used her esophageal tube again and got a good bit of colostrum into him. As she was doing this, she was holding up his front end and his head and I was on the back end, keeping him on his feet. We had a talk about doing all you can for calves but not beating yourself up when they don't make it. She just lost a calf too and she was giving me good advice.
You can have some real heart to heart talks when you're bent over, halfway upside down, hanging on to the back end of a cow. :)
When the feeding was done, the calf walked across the pen a little way. He was terribly weak but better than when we first found him.
There were reports of a storm and rain coming in so I worked to set up a tarp over the corner where the calves like to lay. I got it up and done just before the storm blew in. I was happy with myself on my good timing.
After I picked the kids up from school we went down to check the calves. The calf was out in the rain, just outside the shelter. The shelter wasn't much help anyways since the water was running back under it and there was no place in the pen where water wasn't running or standing. We pushed the calf up under the tarp anyways, and onto some weeds and grass hoping that would help a bit.
Seth and I went back over a couple of hours later to make a platform to get the calves up off the ground. Jason got there a little after us and looked the situation over. He decided the calves needed to go in a different part of the corrals. He found a section the isn't used much so the grass is grown up in it, not just all mud.
We went to work making them a shelter. The pouring rain wouldn't let up at all and there were bolts of lightening tearing the sky in pieces every little bit. As the sky grew darker, we worked to put the tarp across a corner of the pen and layed out a bale of straw and fluffed it up to get them off the wet ground and give them some warmth. Then we had to hand the calves over the fence to each other (no gates in this section). That was fun--nothing like getting your eye dotted by a little hoof. Watch out for flying calves!!!!!
By now it was after dark and we were all drenched and tired. Oliver finally got his bottle that he was patiently (yeah right!) waiting for and I worked with the little calf. He was so weak he could barely suck. He had been shivering when we found him that evening and he was still cold. We tried to rub him down with rags and towels to get him as dry as we could but it seemed impossible. We worked with the bottle and then rub him down, then work with the bottle, then rub him down. Jason decided to name him Rocky since he was such a fighter. So while I was rubbing him down I would tell him (in my best crusty old coach voice) "Come on Rocky! You get back in there! You win this fight!"
After we got some milk in him and with the lightening and thunder around us we finally decided we had to go home. We put Rocky up into the dry corner as far as we could and then covered him with straw to keep him warm. Oliver soon joined him up under the tarp.
We got home to find that the storm had been even rowdier at our house (being up on a hill always makes it feel worse!). When the power went out, Joe had rounded up the two younger kids, brought the dogs in since they go nuts in the storms, and taken everyone down to our storm shelter room in the basement. They held out there playing with the dogs and cracking the hickory nuts I have drying down there.
What an evening! What a day!
This morning I went down to feed breakfast. As I came up the road I glanced into the pen and saw two little white faces side by side under the tarp. I climbed over the fence into the pen. Oliver hopped up and came to me. Rocky didn't move. It wasn't unexpected but it was heartbreaking all the same. I knelt down in the straw next to him and put my hand on his back. He was cold. I watched closely for any signs of life but his eyes remained closed and he didn't move. I shook him and realized his little body was stiff. Rocky had died over night. I looked down at him and could swear that every once in a while I saw the slightest hint of movement like he was breathing. I knew my eyes were playing tricks on me because my mind wanted so much for him to be alive. Oliver came over to us and put his head down to me. He just gently sniffed around and then looked at me.
I looked around and noticed that the straw was all off of Rocky. Not even one little sliver still clinging to his coat. Even if he had stood up and moved around in the night he would still have bits of the grass stuck to him. His coat was smooth and soft and clean. When we left him last night he still had a lot of mud on him and his white legs were almost black with dirt. This morning there was no mud or dirt on him at all. Even the fur on his legs was pristine. His little face was clean and shiny-white. He looked very peaceful lying there. Oliver had taken care of Rocky last night. When I got there Oliver had been lying right up against Rocky, partly on top of him, keeping him warm, protecting him. Now Oliver stood nearby, sniffing and looking at me.
How had this little calf, who himself had just been abandoned last week and didn't have a mother to care for him, know how to take care of little Rocky and do all this?
Rocky had died clean and dry, with food in his tummy, having been loved before he left this world. He didn't have to die alone out in the pasture, left to the flies, with an empty tummy, never having known what a loving touch feels like.
I learned so much this morning. I have begun to realize that it may not be all about when someone dies, but rather how much love did we give that person before they went. Were there times we didn't do that small something because we were busy or tired and there'd always be time for it later. But how many times does "later" come and we've forgotten that little something altogether? We can't always determine how long we will have someone here with us, but we can do all we can, while we can, to make sure they are loved and that they feel that love.
And little Oliver. What a teacher. To be able to give, not something he himself had ever received but something he knew inside just the same, and gave it freely to make another life (and passing) as peaceful and sweet as possible.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, Jen,I am grateful you have your writing to help relieve your sorrow, and that you have such a generous loving heart. Bj