Wednesday, February 20, 2013

He Was Beautiful

 This day turned out nothing like I was expecting.

My friend came out and immediately began trying to get the calf out. To our dismay though, she found that the calf was not only upside down, but the legs were tucked up against it, and its head was flopped back, way out of her reach. Mattie was straining hard with contractions, but there was virtually no way to get this baby out unless we could re-position it into a proper position. Neither one of us was strong enough to do that.

So we called the vet. Actually, we called several vets, friends, family members, and everyone we could think of. Who was close enough to get here quickly? All the local vets were out on call (we even tried an equine vet, in our desperation), friends and family weren't answering their phones. I finally got a hold of the vet who I've been working with lately, and he said he'd make the 1 hour drive over to help us out. 

An hour is a really long time to wait when you're watching a sick cow heave with futile contractions. 

The vet came at about 5:30pm, and once he had his muck boots and coveralls on, he took his turn in trying to figure this little calf out. Well versed in dealing with problem calves, even he had a tricky time re-positioning the calf, and had his entire arm, up to his shoulder, inside my patient cow. Mattie stood rock still the whole time, without being held in any form or fashion. After some manipulating, he had the calf how he needed it: Right side up with its head nestled in between its two front legs. He slipped a wire snare behind the calf's ears, and cinched it inside its mouth. This would keep the head from flopping backwards again, and gave him something to pull on. He then looped chains around the calf's front legs, just above the dewclaws (think ankles), and heaved with all his might, with the snare and the chains wrapped around his hands. But that wasn't enough to pull a stuck calf. My friend stepped in and helped pull, while I kept Mattie from being dragged backwards. With a groan, Mattie fell to the ground in a heap. My friend and the vet kept pulling. There are the legs! Here comes the head! Yes, yes, yes! There's the chest, stomach, and back legs! With one last heave, the calf was out. There was no joy though, when the little calf was finally out and onto the ground. 

It was dead.

It was a bull calf. Chocolate brown in color, with white patches playfully scattered over his small body. He was beautiful. But he was dead.

It looks like he died 3 or 4 days ago, according to the vet, and it was just a freak happening. Apparently it's very common in Holstein cows, but extremely rare in Jerseys. Why it had to happen to this one particular cow, during my very first calving, I fail to understand... There is nothing you can do to prevent it, nothing you can do to avoid it happening again, and nothing to do to save the calf. In the span of 6 days, my cow has had premature milk fever (very rare for a cow to get it before they calve), a severe case of pneumonia (uncommon to see a cow get it so bad, so fast), a case of dystocia (stuck calf; difficult birth), and an ultra rare fluke of a stillborn calf. Why this all had to happen to me and Mattie, all at the same time, I will never know. It makes no sense to my little head.

The vet continued on to give Mattie some more antibiotics. He gave her every single thing he possibly could and said it's all up to her now. She has a 50% chance of survival. If she looks better tomorrow, then she'll most likely make it and be fine. If she looks the same tomorrow, as she does today, then her chances are slim indeed...

When the vet left, Mattie wandered over to the fence edge, where her calf lay in a heap on the other side. She wanted it, but couldn't understand why she couldn't have it. I sighed, rubbed the soft spot on her forehead, where the fur makes a pretty little whorl, and then helped my friend drag the carcass out. Better luck next time, Mattie dear. 

While part of me is at least glad that it wasn't a heifer that was lost, I'm still heartbroken about it all... I wanted that calf so bad, and have been looking forward to its birth since last July, when I first bought Mattie. All that's left to do now is hope and pray that Mattie pulls through, and then pick up these broken shards of life and continue on. 

Life is tough sometimes.


Sherlock said...

I think your hour-a-way vet has no idea what they are doing. This is your first time calving, and they didn't once come see the cow and make sure everything was okay even though she had so many, many complications. I understand that they were busy and prescribed medication over the phone, but the fact that the calf has been dead for so freaking long is unacceptable. You're not a huge operation, and one calf would have made a world of difference to your farm. And now, having gone through such a horrible ordeal, even if Mattie lives you've lost your organic farm and have to disclose to your customers the large amount of drugs this person gave your cow. I can't help but feel that a competent vet, coming when you first called about the milk fever, would have been able to head off all of these problems.

Goat Song said...

Sherlock, the vet would have come out at the very beginning (he offered more than once to do so), but I always said 'no'. It is completely my doing for him not coming out; he is very knowledgeable in his line of work, and is very accurate. I trust him completely. I felt no need for him to come out until today; I knew how to deal with the milk fever, and there was only so much that could be done for the pneumonia. It was in trying to pull the calf out that I needed the help of an expert, and called him out.

And I'm actually not an "organic" farm... I cannot legally make that claim since I am not Certified Organic. On my website, in the Mission Statement, I wrote that I use alternative medicines whenever possible, but WILL use drugs if ABSOLUTELY necessary. (
It is not worth it to me to try and be a "purist" and possibly lose an animal that cost me $1,800. I use drugs if there is no other choice, and if the life of an animal is on the line. My customers are all aware of what has just passed, and everyone is fine with it. They're all happy that there was at least an effort made to save their milk source.

Also, there was no way to save the calf. Even if they had come out at the beginning of all this, there was nothing they could have done.

Thank you for your concerns though. I really appreciate it, and am glad that you care. :)

Illinois Lori said...

Oh, sweet girl, I'm so sorry this happened to you and to Mattie. That is heartbreaking.

I'm not a farmer, as you know, just a suburbanite mom to a young beginning farmer who is just getting land purchased, so I can't speak to anyone's actions, good or not. But I can wonder, based on all I have read from Salatin, Nation, Logsdon and the rest of the "gang," whether Mattie should be bred again if she survives this. Emotionally it's a strain on you, and financially, well, only you know what that will mean for your farm. I'm so sorry, dearest...God has something for you to learn from all of this. But first just care for your Mattie and for your heart...some lessons just feel impossibly hard to learn, don't they? I'll be praying for you each day this week, do keep us posted on how it's going!


Lindsay Hermanson said...

Could the calf dieing have brought on the milk fever? It all seems to have happened at the same time. So sorry for this set back. Hopefully you will still get to milk her and rebreed. I have heard of some Jersey owners breeding to Dexter bulls for smaller calves, would that be an option for you? You are my inspiration, so know you are being thought of more than you know.

S.S. said...

I'm sorry to hear of your loss! My kids and I tune in to your blog to hear about the calf everyday, my 3-year old has drawn many pictures of your cow having a healthy baby. I hope that your cow will yet see a healthy birth. I have a goat that had a rough go of things and still have hope that she will give a little one suck some day. All of us are very sad for you and we're proud of you for hanging in there!
- Stephanie

Anonymous said...

Sorry this didn't have a happier ending for you and Mattie. You did everything that you could. It's just a small bump in the road for you and your farming dream. Thanks for sharing your adventures, the good and the bad. I hope you have lots more good things in the future.
Heather in PA

Anonymous said...

Something just occurred to me. I live on the east coast and follow on FaceBook the University of MD Small Ruminant page.

Everyone seems to be experiencing a large number of still born and sick does/ewes this year. They are all talking about it, but no one is quite sure what is going on. One farm reported kid losses of 50% They are discussing possible causes of everything from feed, to hay toxins-due to the drought. I hear of farmers in Europe dealing with a virulent disease that causes abortions and malformed livestock. Disturbing news for us in the states, who are already experiencing a difficult year.
Hope next year is better.
Heather in PA

Kelly said...

So sorry to hear/read! It was our first calving experience with our nearly 4 year old Guernsey last month, I cannot imagine the deviation if we would have gone through what you just did. You two are in our prayers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Caitlyn, I'm sorry...I know how you feel. My little Nigi kidded, she had two beautiful babies, doe and buck. They were in perfect health but it was too cold and they both died. When I found them I cried so hard and kept asking my self 'what if'. What if I had done something different.
You said on you blog that milk fever is untreatable. Well I beg to differ, according to Newman Turner it is curable and preventable and he has done it in his own herd holistically. One of his quotes is "I discovered that there is only one disease of animals and that disease is man." He claims that every disease can be prevented with nutrition. I recommend his book, its called Cure Your Own Cattle.
So don't despair girl! There is next year and if Newman is right, then you'll be ready. I'm planning on only having spring kiddings from now on.

Goat Song said...

Tasha, I'm so sorry to hear about your little goat kids! :( I know you have been so excited for those babies.

Milk fever is very treatable, and very easy to prevent and cure. :) If you have calcium boluses, or an IV then you can usually fix the problem within an hour. I believe what I was calling "untreatable" was the calf's death.

Anonymous said...! I get ya. Calcium bolus? What's that?

gz said...

sad to hear this. You're getting so much experience packed in together

Kris said...

We will never know why things like this happen. It's all a learning curve for sure. I'm so sorry this happened. And I do hope and pray Mattie pulls through. Looks like you'll need a lot of rest yourself.

Hannah said...

Aw, sorry Caitie! I will be praying for you.

Linda said...

Oh my, that brought tears... :(

blind irish pirate said...

Sorry to hear about it. This was a tough case for you to handle, and you can't feel really great about any of the outcomes. For clarification to Sherlock, just my own professional opinion, it would be very difficult for a calf to survive in the condition Mattie was in all week. She was sick, sick, sick. I'm very sorry that you had to experience all of it, and that you lost what you did. :(