It Isn’t Always Rainbows and Lollipops
It was the spring of 2013 and we were ecstatic for our first season of calving.
One morning one of the cows was lying off by herself in the field with something coming out of her back end. Holy crap it was happening! I called Brian, whom we had bought the herd from as he said he would help with our first calving. He soon showed up and we walked down the field together. I was vibrating with excitement which quickly turned to dismay as he said with a low voice, “That doesn’t look good at all”.
It turns out she was not calving – she had a prolapsed rectum. She had slipped on the mud in the night, and fell with her back legs not underneath her but behind her. It is called a “downed” cow. She had spent the night trying to get them under her again to get up, but with no luck. The constant strain of her attempts had her rectum prolapse. She had also created a pit in the mud, which she was now laying in.
Her eyes were full of panic and showed her exhaustion. We got her to higher and drier ground. As per Brian’s instruction I fetched him a bucket of warm water and a small towel. He gently washed off what was protruding from her bottom and gently pushed it back inside. We then brought down a small bail of straw from the barn and put it under one side to help her be sitting more upright, giving her a better chance of getting up. It didn’t help. Every time she would try to get up, her legs would slip out backwards from under her. My heart ached for her, we felt so helpless.
We would have to rotate her body, basically keep flipping her from one side to the other every few hours so that the weight of her own body wouldn’t pinch her main nerves and rob her of feeling in her legs. Let me tell you, it is no easy feat flipping a cow. Thankfully Brian had taught us some tricks with a rope to make these flips go as smoothly and quickly as possible.
We did this the rest of the day and throughout the night, along with making sure she had fresh hay and water right by her head. By now we knew if she hadn’t gotten up within 24 hours, chances are she wouldn’t get up again. It had now been about 30 hours since we first discovered her.
The next morning, it was Mother’s Day. Our youngest (5 at the time) came happily skipping down the field, muddy rubber boots, wearing one of his Dad’s tattered farm coats and chanting “Happy Mother’s Day!” through the fence to me. He asked me what I was doing. “Oh honey, her bum fell out, so I am helping put it back in.” This explanation seemed to make perfect sense to him. “Well, we made you pancakes and they're ready – come and get’m!” I finished washing her rectum and putting it back in yet again. It was pointless. We knew what we had to do. I came in, ate the pancakes, praised the boys for their tastiness, and then quietly made the call.
A man with a truck showed up shortly after. He took out his gun and I led him to our downed cow. He reassured me that we had done everything we could, this happens and this was the very last resort. She was suffering and would not get up again if she hadn’t yet. He shot her. It was heartbreaking. I was surprised at how the other cows – eating at the nearby feeder didn’t even seem to notice or care. Perhaps they had grown tired of the show that had gone on since the day before.
I did my best to keep spirits up for the kids that day. They were doing all kinds of things to make my Mother’s Day special. I adored their innocence and acceptance of what had just taken place. I was sad not only for the cow we lost, but for the calf we lost too inside of her. Undoubtedly the extra weight of being pregnant hadn’t helped. She wasn’t due for another three weeks, and we were told by numerous farmers afterwards that even with an emergency C-section the calf had a very slim chance of survival. Needless to say, it was a really crappy Mother’s Day, but we learned a lot.
It isn’t always rainbows and lollipops on the Farm, which makes us appreciate happy healthy calves every spring even more. This little lady seen below was born this past spring and was only about twenty minutes old when I snapped this pic. We named her Beauty.