A critical aspect of what Nick and I want to do with this blog, is to be honest about our failings with those who care to be our audience. The big screw-ups in life, ironically are what set us back, and make us great. . . eventually. If we are too proud to own our failures, and spend the second half of our existence denying our first, more uncoordinated and embarrassing half of our existence, then we almost doom those looking to us to make similar mistakes. So if our recent lessons learned about farming can educate anyone out there, that’s what I’d like them to do. These lessons have definitely been tattooed onto my brain for life.
If you’ve been extra observant, you may have noticed that our regular blog posts have been interrupted in the last two or three weeks. It started with our good friend’s cow, that has been staying with us for a little over a year, either laying or falling down too close to a field fence, and getting her feet caught under the bottom wire. She spent the night in that position struggling to get up, which resulted in her becoming exhausted. As anyone with much experience with cows will tell you, they very quickly give up on life, especially the whole standing up part. This situation was exacerbated by our first failing, which was in nutrition. Nutrition has not been our strong point and having too many animals for our pasture and our earnings hasn’t helped. Not feeding enough to keep them in good condition during this year’s particularly harsh winter meant that our cows were coming into spring on the scrawny side. We started feeding fodder about a month ago, and when we made the switch we calculated their rations for maintenance, not weight gain. So the poor critters were holding steady at skinny even though the amount of fodder they were getting should have been enough to hold them steady in good condition.
This meant that Mama cow was weak to begin with, and her pathetic frame was atrophying fast from inactivity. Thankfully her appetite was good, and we started upping her feed more and more while she was down. We gave her B vitamin shots, and a tube of CMPK (Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus , and Potassium), and antibiotics to address what sounded like the start of pneumonia, and went out to shift her from side to side ever 2 hours to prevent loss of circulation. The second day that she was down the neighbor was kind enough to bring down her tractor with forks on the bucket to help us get her on her feet. It was quite the struggle but we got her standing, and she stood for about 30 minutes before laying back down. The next day Nick was determined to come up with a solution that we could put into action on our own, just the two of us. He built an enormous frame with four timber braces to steady it, and suspended a pulley at the top. Threading strapping under the cows front legs and under her belly so we could hoist her up with our little Nissan pickup was the final preparation. We struggled to move the monstrosity of a device into position, and got the cow in her straps. Lifting was a nightmare at first, but before long she learned to pop up and get her feet under herself while suspended in the air. She would stand for an hour, or two, or three, and soon the real nightmare was moving the ‘monstrosity’ into position wherever the cow had laid down. Thankfully she chose a beautifully sunny week to go down initially, and this made caring for her less of a disaster. Although our wardrobe was rather shit-splattered for the first week.
We lifted her two or three times a day for a week, and I was getting anxious that we wouldn’t be able to make our romantic get-away we had planned for my birthday. Three days before our trip to Edgefield however, we walked out to the pasture to lift Mama, and she very precariously and proudly got to her feet, absolutely on her own. We cheered and ran to pet and spoil her with chaffehay and grain. That was it, we were sure we would be able to make our one night get-away now. Sadly our relief was very short lived. That evening everything was fine with the cow, and we went to bed feeling as though our stress was over. However, we woke the next morning to look out our little bedroom window and see a grey cold rain coming down, and what we could just make out as the form of the cow. We didn’t see any movement. She also appeared to be sprawled out on her side, a dangerous position for a ruminant to lay. We rushed to her aid. As I was approaching her in the field I couldn’t make out what was going on. There was blood and after-birth spread about, and 5 or 6 feet uphill from the cow lay a contorted dead calf. My head spun. We didn’t know she was bred. Though she had been exposed to the bull, we had assumed she had not taken due to his fertility ‘status’. I passed by the well formed fetus and made my way to Mama’s head. Rain on her sallow neck, she shivered piteously, and she moaned. I pulled on her halter to wright her, but she didn’t cooperate. We suspected hypothermia immediately, and broke open a bale of straw to insulate her. A few minutes later the thermometer confirmed our fears. After we had buried her in 7 or 8 inches of straw, and pulled a tarp over that to keep the rain off, we gave her 27 cc’s of injectable antibiotics, making the assumption that the abortion and her weakened state had opened her up to infection. As I gave the injections she mooed pathetically and flopped her head back onto the wet ground. The amniotic sac was still attached deep in the uterus, and the portion hanging out was an fast track for bacteria. What worried me most was that her appetite and thirst were gone. We offered her warm water with molasses, and grain to no avail. I was pretty sure that this was the end. We put heat packs on her neck, made her as comfortable as possible and left her to warm up and decide whether to live or die.
To be continued. . .