Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cow/Calf Update

Our downed mother cow is still down.  It has now been 2 weeks and we've lost hope that she'll get up.  It's heart-wrenching to see her.  She's getting sores on her legs, and her front legs have lost their muscle tone as well. 

We've gotten her up using the hip lifters a few times, to no avail.  When we lower her to the point where she has to support her own weight, the legs just melt underneath her.  They are useless. 

The sad truth is we are going to have to put her down.  It is a painful decision to make, but we don't want her to suffer any longer.  We've kept her as comfortable as possible, with a shade tent over her, fresh grass and water every 2 hours (many thanks to Mom and Gordy for taking over this job for the past week), fly spray to keep the darn things off of her, and some green apples for treats.  But she is fading and it is obvious she is giving up hope as well--her ears are drooping and she's no longer making an effort to stand.  We are going to have to help her along in her journey so she doesn't suffer any longer. 

Honeysuckle, her calf, has given us a few scares as well.  For the first week, she would hardly wake up to eat.  When we'd call her, her eyes would open and she'd start to lick her lips but she wouldn't raise up her head.  It's quite alarming when you grab her by the ears, lift her head up, and then let go only to have her head flop backwards in an awkward position.  There were many times where we had to check her breathing to make sure she was still alive.  When she'd finally wake, she would eat only a little bit before lying down again.

The past two days, however, have been a different story.  All of a sudden she's perked up.  Marcel gave her a strong dose of vitamins in the form of a paste and I read online that perhaps I was making her milk too strong.  I've diluted her milk-replacer a bit and she's chugging down 2 bottles, twice a day and still asking for more.  What a relief!

She really is adorable.  Madelina and Armando have taken it upon themselves to be her playmates--riding their bikes around in the barnyard with her, jumping around and teaching her how to kick up her heals.  It's pretty hilarious.  And she is now my personal alarm clock, mooing loudly at the gate first thing in the morning, awaiting her breakfast.  She gets going at around 5:30 a.m., not caring that I don't like to get up that early.  Marcel just laughs and says, "Your newest daughter is calling you." 

I'd rather he said, "Don't worry, sweetie.  I'll feed her."

Oh well.  She's doing well and is the one positive outcome from this situation, so I'm not going to complain.  OK, so maybe I'll complain a little.

I wish I had happier news to share with you about the mother.  If there's one lesson that farmers learn early and often:  there isn't always a happy ending.  

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mama Cow.....

...has another calf?

A quick recap of yesterday's fiasco:

Marcel checked on the Mama.
I went to move the cows to a fresh paddock.
Marcel started whistling, yelling, waving.
I knew something was wrong.
Mama cow had a hoof coming out her rear.
Yes, I said a hoof.
The hoof was upside-down.
Marcel inserted his arm.
Yes, arm.
He couldn't find the other foot.
I inserted my arm.
I couldn't find the other foot.
I called the vet.
"The mother cow is having another calf."
"There is only one hoof presenting and it's breech."
"We can't find the other foot."
Vet said, "I'll find it."
Mother cow is lying head outstretched.
Mother cow is moaning.
Mother cow is breathing abnormally.
Vet arrives, gloves up, inserts arm.
Says, "This is going to be a disaster."
Vet pushes calf back in.
Vet works for about 10 minutes finding other hoof.
Vet pulls other hoof out.
He hooks it to the calf-puller: a pulley system used for emergencies.
I drive the tractor close to mama cow.
Marcel hooks pulley to tractor and starts cranking.
Marcel pulls dead calf out.
It was a girl.
Mama cow looks relieved.
Mama cow sits upright again.
Mama cow is all swollen on the inside.
I run home and get the antibiotics in my fridge.
Yes, there is a place for antibiotics and livestock.
This is it.
Marcel gave her 2 large injections, 50 ml total.
Mama cow drinks water and eats a little hay.

I'm stuck with the nagging thought that we failed this mama and the poor dead heifer calf. Did we think she could have twins in there? Actually, yes we did. Did we check for a twin after the first heifer was born. Actually, yes we did. But we only stuck our arm in up to the forearm. We should've stuck our arm in up to our shoulder.

The vet said the calf died about 5 minutes after the first one was born.  We have learned a very costly lesson.  Again.  

This morning the mother cow is sitting upright again.
She is trying to stand.
She is one tough mama.
This afternoon we're going to try the hip lifter.
Basically it's a big clamp.
That you hook to her hip bones.
And lift her with the tractor.
To see if she can put weight on her back legs.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

When Physiological Becomes Psychological

The mother cow's physiological problem has played nicely into my own personal psychological problem. Namely, my fear of having to pull a calf on my own.

So when the mama cow went into labor yesterday, and little hooves were sticking out her rear by 1:00 pm, and the vet told me she wouldn't be able to birth lying down without assistance, and she was literally butted up to the barnyard fence with no way to move her and no room for the calf to come out.....the reality of the situation washed over me and put me into a minor tizzy. It was just me, standing there in the barnyard, swearing a little, realizing I was gonna have to do this by myself, alone. Well, my kids were there of course, you know, but I was basically alone. It was all me.
(This picture was taken after the fact, but shows just how close the mama cow was to the fence.)

What'd I do? I called Marcel and told him he needed to come home from work NOW. Having some backup on the way relieved a bit of my anxiety (i.e., psychological problem). Then I got to work. I hooked the chains around the babe's legs and stretched open the vagina to see the calf's nose. Her tongue was hanging out and her nostrils were not moving--I needed to get the baby out right away.

Since I couldn't get behind the cow, I had to pull on the chains from the other side of the fence. I pulled, the mama pushed, and we got the calf's head out! The calf shook her head a little, she was alive, but now came the tricky part. How do we get her all the way out when there is no room for her? I was worried the mother would break her back when she moved.

So I called in reinforcements. No, not Farmer Scott. Not the vet. Not Marcel--he hadn't gotten there yet. I called my girls.

"Ana! Madelina! You've gotta help me, NOW!" I had them take over my position with the chains on the other side of the fence as I stretched open the mama cow's vagina. The girls pulled as hard as possible, saying things like, "EW! The chains are all goopy," and "This is really HARD," while I stretched the mother open, pulled on the calf's slippery shoulders, and rearranged the calf so she wouldn't get squished. The cow started to accept the help, gave a few good pushes, and the whole calf slipped out.

Thanks to the help of my girls, we got that calf safely out of her mother.  5 minutes later, Marcel arrived.  Just in time to help us celebrate our small victory and get to work caring for the mother and babe.

The mother cow can't nurse the calf lying down, so the little heifer has become a bottle calf and has moved up to a stall in our barn. The mother is still down, but she's doing OK. She is eating and drinking water and hasn't given up yet, so we aren't giving up on her either. We fashioned a sort-of tent over her, using a large tarp and some round bale cages pushed up on their sides, to shade her from the hot sun. We're hoping that with the calf born, the pressure on her nerves will be relieved and she'll get up within a few days.

That's our hope: a double happy ending and the end of the mother cow's 'physiological problem'.

Here are some pictures, taken by my sister and Ana, after the calf was born.  Enjoy.

Water for the thirsty, tired mama.

Ana, attending the mother.

 Madelina and Marcel, rubbing the calf to stimulate blood flow.

More massaging.

Isn't she darling?  We're calling her Honey.  Honeysuckle.

Ana, trying to feed Honeysuckle the colostrum replacement.

Making some shade for the mother.

The ending to my psychological problem? A successful calf-pull and darling little heifer named Honeysuckle.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Something Physiological

We are caring for an injured mama cow. We're not sure what happened, but she started limping about two weeks ago, taking care to not put any weight on her back left leg. We called the vet, thinking she had foot rot--a fungus that can cause painful sores on the hoof, but after giving her a thorough hoof cleaning, clipping and check-up he found nothing. "I'm worried it could be something physiological," he had said.

"Something physiological" sounds awfully vague and pretty scary to a beginning farmer like myself. So we locked her in the barnyard with some fresh hay and water which was effectively like sending her to bed for a little R & R.

Fast forward a few days and the poor thing can't get up anymore. She's lying upright and rocks back and forth as if she wants to stand, but then settles back down again, obviously frustrated with her inability to move. We called the vet out again to see if he could better diagnose the problem.

This time he said she must have a pinched nerve in the hip that is making her back leg useless. It could be that the almost full-term calf inside her could be pressing against a nerve. Or, it might be a "physiological injury" for which there may be no cure. He gave her a shot to get her labor started, with the hopes that we can assist her in giving birth, save the calf and hopefully relieve the pressure on her nerve.

Or, we might save the calf and have to put her down.

Or, we might lose them both.

In the meantime, I am visiting her every 1.5 hours, taking fresh cool water to her to drink, bathing her with a little water to cool her down (she's lying in the open sun), and bringing her hay to eat. It's the least we can do to keep her comfortable until her labor begins. Please wish us luck.