Tia (my beautiful little heifer) was laid flat out on the ground, in the yards by the hay feeder, snow falling on her face. I threw the hay into the hay car to distract the others and walked swiftly to her side. The one eye I could see was wide with fright, she was on her side, her legs stretched out stiff, jerking and kicking. She was in big trouble. I searched her for wounds but nothing. Her belly was not hard and distended. So no bloat. But she was down and in some very real pain.
I felt her nose, she was getting cold and we were outside in biting wind. First I had to warm her up. With considerable difficulty because of her kicking legs I rolled her over and got all four legs under her then heaved. She has grown into a big girl and she fought me. But her nose was feeling plasticky and her eyes going foggy and pale.
You know that feeling when your heart literally falls. It is a physical thud. I am a farmer, I work with animals all the time, we have to pick up that feeling of panic and place it away from us. And focus hard.
I lost my grip, she flung herself back onto her side, legs pistoning. But animals die lying down like that I would not have her dying. She had to get upright.
She was having spasms of pain and kept stretching her legs out – almost rolling onto her back, kicking out. Boo waited beside me. Ton lay a ways off. Sheila paced from her house to the field, back and forth, black and forth grunting as I heaved and heaved and tried to get Tia onto her stomach. Once again I got her rolled over with all her legs under her, and was pushing hard to keep her upright, she seemed to quieten a little but still would not get up onto her feet. I stood up, supporting her with my leg and looked at her, thinking, then looked at Boo. Boo stood completely at attention. Waiting. Ok. I said, Quietly. Bring her up, Boo. He pounced and nipped her on the back leg, then darted back out of reach. She startled and up she rushed, right up onto her feet in fright, I caught her and steadied her. She was shaking but standing then we were walking towards the open door in the barn. But both back legs were taking turns at kicking at her belly, she was off kilter, she kept lurching sideways, or sinking to the ground. Her legs up and at her belly. Boo stuck close behind her so she kept walking. She was in pain, bad pain. We had to get her out of the cold. Our progress was slow. Boo and I kept her walking back up to the barn, her whole rear end was wobbling off course. Ii had to steer her. In the end I was holding her up, the calf leaning on me as she walked, trying to kick at the pain, oblivious to all else except Boo bringing up the rear. We got her all the way to the barn and into the Sick bay.
She fell to the floor of the sick bay. I got her to stand again. She lost a lot of her panic when she was standing against the wall me beside her using my body to keep her there, all the while stroking and talking. I called John on the phone and asked him to go to the other barn and bring me two bales of straw, then I called the Vet. He was free after his next appointment, then he would be on his way. I said, Thank you, thank you so very much. Thanks Gods.
Tia kicked so hard at her own belly that she fell again but I caught her this time and was able to ease her down the wall so she lay on her haunches. Then I sat against her – keeping her head up. Talking and stroking with big Mama cow strokes just like we do every day. She leaned on me with all her weight, and her breathing slowed and her head lowed down to tuck into her side. The pain was killing her. No, I said and Boo tucked closer in. No, I said , bring your head up. No dying.
John bought the straw, finished the rest of the chores then took Boo inside so he could not cause a ruckus when the vet arrived. Tia and I sat quietly together for a long while. Occasionally she would stand up and throw herself about the sick bay pen, then she would collapse again, she began to moan with each breath. getting weaker.
I went down into a waiting zone. All that could be done was done. The calf and I calmed and calmed and waited. The vet arrived in good time. He examined her, and said that she must have twisted an intestine or a blockage of some kind. He took her temperature, it was low, below what it should be. If it were a twisted intestine she would need an operation. There was a chance we could drive her to the University but it was almost two hours away, she would not make it and they might not have the staff to operate immediately. But it was too cold. The wind howled outside. And her body temperature was already dropping. She would die in the trailer, alone, in the dark, frightened and cold and in pain as we drove through the night. This would not be acceptable.
Let’s treat her for the blockage I decided. There was a 50/ 50 chance that this was the problem. Though there was no good reason for me to believe this other than optimism. The vet nodded. It was my call. He went to his truck brought back two syringes and a large bag of mineral oil with a tube.
Tia had slipped further down into her pain and barely moved now, her head no longer supporting itself.
I think she is dying, I told him quietly, stroking her neck.
She might be, he said.
He gave her two shots, one for the pain and one a steroid to help with inflammation. We secured her, (she had already kicked the Vet in the face during a spasm) then he put the tube down her throat, I held the bag up high and we poured a lot of mineral oil down her throat. Afterwards, she lay all the way down stretching her legs out, she kicked sadly, then she arched her neck long, all the way back up, barely breathing, eyes rolling, while he listened for stomach sounds with his stethoscope. .
Both of us talked and stroked our hands from her throat to her tail.
He wanted to stand her up but she was not able to.
Hi listened again. Hmm. She sounds a little better, he said. He pulled up the lid of her eye, colour is good. We rolled and tucked and pushed her up into a sitting position. She had gone very quiet. I held her in place with my leg. Then we waited. Talking softly, ignoring the time.
After a wee while she lifted her head, after another while her ears came up and she started to look about. Then soon after that she adjusted her body, tucked her feet further under her belly and reached for some hay.
The Vet and I looked at each other and smiled. Not out of the woods yet he warned. I nodded and ignored him. We discussed the difference between being a realist (him) and being a pragmatist (me). Though we both like to think the best first, we discussed the implications of this on realism and pragmatism.
He began to gather his tools. He said. Keep her upright. Let me know how she does. Call me if you have any questions, he said. (He always says that).
I said. It’s Friday night. I am so glad you were able to come.
I looked down realising a lack of pressure. I was not holding her up anymore, she was holding her own body in place by herself.
I want to take this one right through, I said, maybe train her to be a milk cow. She is quite lovely.
She is a good looking calf, he said. He was leaning on the barn wall, bag and tube and gloves and stethoscope in his hands. Tia picked her head up and looked straight at him, lazily blinking. Her ears turning from the sound of him to the shuffle of Ton changing sides outside the door. Pain meds, he said. referring to her sleepiness.
She is naturally a gentle calm animal too, I said. Perfect temperament for a milk cow.
He touched his face where she had kicked him and raised his eyebrows.
Hmm, I conceded. Tia reached for another tiny piece of hay. The Vet and I exchanged a satisfied look and nodded to each other. Eating is the best sign.
After the Vet left I placed one bale of straw behind her back then broke the second bale and covered her deeply so she would warm up again. It was late and there was no light by then, she was just a sleeping dark blob in the straw.
Within an hour she was standing up. Alert again and calm, no kicking at her own belly trying to knock out the pain.
After another hour she was chewing and thinking about nothing much as though nothing much had ever happened.
She stayed resting in the Sick Bay and I checked her until late in the night. By eleven she was sitting chewing her cud listening to Sheila snore from through the wall. It appeared that there really had been a blockage and that the oil had moved it through.
I will check her again in a few minutes and let you know in the Lounge of Comments how she is doing.
I hope you have a lovely day.