Our calving season is nearly complete, with nine out of our 10 cows having at least one healthy baby. Even knowing we have selected good cows for our herd, there is always a chance for problems during calving season.
With that in mind, my husband checks on the cows ever three hours or so, 24 hours a day, until they have all calved. That type of broken sleep can nearly make a person crazy, but can catch a problem in its earliest stages.
One cause for concern is that the field where the cows winter has a creek running through it. Cows, like many animals, head for water when they are feeling ill or beginning labor. It has occurred in the past that a cow will deliver her calf directly into the water, which in the middle of the night in February, is cold. Cold is an understatement actually; about five seconds after submerging your hand into the arctic liquid, you lose feeling in your fingers.
And, in fact, we had one cow this year that gave birth mere feet from the creek. When her little grey heifer stood up moments later to take her first wobbly steps, she stumbled into the icy water. She went from the 101.5 degrees of her mother’s womb to what I imagine was very near the 32 degree mark in about 10 minutes. With what little energy she had left, she managed to get back onto the creek bank, which is where we found her.
Her energy reserves gone, she lay and shivered while we tried to dry her off with hay. The use of a towel, while quicker, puts a human scent on the calf that often makes a cow reject it, so we avoid it if we can. When she was drier, we attempted to bottle-feed her some milk that would both warm up her core and give her some energy to find her mother’s udder and her food source. She was too tired to drink.
After some struggle, we got out the tube feeder. The “tube” slides down the calf’s throat and is attached to a bag filled with milk. Once the tube is in place, the bag is opened, and the milk flows directly into the calf’s stomach. The problem is if the tube is inserted incorrectly, the milk will fill the lungs, drowning the calf. I don’t like to use it.
Prayerfully, I inserted the tube while my husband helped the calf stand up. I felt her nose blowing short bursts of air onto my cheek and hoped that was a good sign. I released the clamp on the tube, and the milk flowed into the calf. In seconds it was empty, and the calf was still alive.
We moved the calf to the other side of the creek onto a pile of hay. We covered her up with more so that she would have less work to do to stay warm and left. Plus, the mother needed some hay and a little grain to help her recover following labor.
When we returned to check on them a couple of hours later, the calf was standing at her mother’s udder, eating. Breathing a prayer of thanks, we left them alone. It was a great moment, to know that we had helped save her life. Moments like that can make long days seem brighter, so we decided to call her Little Victory.
Laura Zoeller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.