Monday, December 17, 2012

Realities of the Cow/Calf Operation

Apparently one of the cows, a lead cow and not a novice mother, was pregnant and nobody knew she was. This is how we found out. We went out to check the cows that morning. It was supposed to really rain hard later on so we were trying to accomplish the task before the rain started.  But first we had to move Sam’s pen to higher ground. Sam is our McNab border collie pup. Then while the weather held and was still not raining we got in the Gator and went out to check the cows. We got almost all the way to Three Cross Hill which is near the edge of the property in the biggest pasture. Must be 500 acres at least. Just past the hill one of the cows standing all by herself over a dark form. I said to Marty "you don't think that's a calf do you? It's not due until Christmas". Because at that point we still thought the only cow that was pregnant wasn't due until then. But sure enough it was a calf. It was a new born calf and it was dry and fluffy and but lying inert in the grass. Marty said it's dead but as we got nearer I saw it was still breathing. Who knows how long it had been there?  Long enough for the mother to lick it off and for it to get dry. The evidence of the birth was all around it. It still wasn't raining but it was windy and cold. The poor little calf was lying at its mother's feet and was unable to stand. It was bawling softly from time to time but went limp as a rag when Marty picked it up to try to help it stand. Marty drove back to a phone to call Don the owner. I stayed with the cow and calf to protect the calf. I didn't want a coyote to find it and tear it to pieces. I tried to stay out of the cow's way but stand close enough to shelter the calf from the wind. I rubbed on it, too, to help warm it up but as soon as I did it would bawl softly and then the mother would come over and lick it. Marty had told me to be careful because the cows could be protective. My instinct was to get down on the ground and hold it in my arms and try to really warm it but I was afraid to. I can't leap to my feet anymore if a cow wants to come at me aggressively. The cow and I would talk to each other from a short distance. I saw tears coming out of her eye. I told her we were trying to help her baby as best we knew how. I think she thought it was hopeless and that she was grieving for her baby. Was I reading human emotions into this? I leave you to be the judge.

When Marty came back the owner had told him to try to help and not leave it there so we put the calf in the back of the gator on some hay. We tried to rope the cow from the gator but she was having nothing to do with it and we accidentally roped her around the neck and unintentionally choked her. We needed to capture her, milk her and get some of that into the baby. Pulling her behind the gator was too much for her so Marty said we need to get a horse. So we took the calf to our big hay barn and put it in a bed of straw to help keep it warm. It was still breathing and bawling softly from time to time. My heart was absolutely breaking. But Marty said they are tough and sometimes rally. Once the calf was in the barn out of the wind I went to the house while Marty saddled Joaquin who is the best horse we have. He was going to try to go and get the cow and bring her back so we could get some colostrum from her. It was not looking good but we had to try. At the house I called to some neighbors to see if we could get some dried colostrum and a bottle so we could nurse it in case the cow was uncooperative. We were so unprepared for this! Only one neighbor answered and he was in Arizona! He said don't try to rope the cow but drive them all in (about 90 cows and calves) and then separate out the mother.

When I went to find Marty it finally started in on raining sideways. I certainly didn't want him out in the rain and wind and have an accident all alone. So, with him on Joaquin and me in the Gator, we drove all the cows back to the pens where we cut out the momma cow from the herd and put her in a chute. Marty was magnificent and handled Joaquin very well who wasn't totally on board with all of this. I was driving back and forth in the gator like a maniac to keep cows from straying off and going in the wrong direction. I got a raw throat from yelling. Finally we got them all in the corrals. It took a while with lots of patience.

Once we cut the mother out we let all the other cows and calves back out to the pasture because we didn't need them any more. Marty then went to put Joaquin away and I went to get some dry hay for him at the hay barn where the calf was. When I got there the calf was dead. It was so still. There is something so strange about a dead creature. When it's alive there is "something" there but once it's dead there's nothing. I thought of seeing my mother lying in her casket. Life is so strange!

I feel really bad about the whole thing but we did our best and at least the poor little guy did not die out in the rain and wind or have some coyotes get him. It was peaceful and quiet in the barn. We covered him with some hay and then went and let the momma cow back out to the herd. She did OK after that and did not get sick.

Next time we will be prepared with a bottle and some dry colostrum to reconstitute. I know then it's still not guaranteed that we could save a struggling calf. I remember Teresa's sister in law Sue talking about bottle feeding calves and how lucky you have to be to have them thrive.

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