It’s funny, when you really think about it….although, I guess that depends on the final outcome – which might not be funny at all. You see, we’ve never had cows before. When I worked as a Vet Tech/Intern, it was in an office which mostly dealt with small animals. The truth is: I’ve never really even been around cows before. I have had horses and goats, chickens and turkeys, dogs and cats – never a cow, not once. I can’t even begin to tell you how stressful it is to have a “new” pregnant species on the farm. I have been watching Goldie (our pregnant Scottish Highland Cow) like a hawk for the past week-and-a-half since I first noticed her bag swell up and her hips sink in….after the first part of the week, I was beginning to think I was crazy for expecting a calf an entire month early – Goldie is almost five years old, making this her third calf, and she is typical Scottish Highland; easy calving, good mother, thrive in difficult conditions….what could possibly go wrong?
When I left work on Friday, I mentioned that I was expecting a Mother’s Day calf, because our first ever kids on the Acre had been Mother’s Day kids, and Goldie seemed so close to calving that I was sure of it…. Actually, sure of what? I have never had cows, never seen a calf born….the truth is, I had instinctually noticed the enlarging of her bag a week and a half ago – though I questioned whether or not I had simply imagined it – and I was (in the back of my head) expecting a calf this weekend. How do Mothers know these things? I cannot answer this question, but I can tell you that I fully expected to witness a birth this weekend. Unfortunately, I did not witness a birth. I had warned my husband over the past week to watch for signs of labor in the cow, to check her hind-end, her udder, and her protruding hips for signs of an impending birth. This morning he checked her, as usual, and found nothing new to the eye. This afternoon, I walked outside with the kids, heard a low ‘moo’, saw sunken hips sniffing at the edge of the paddock, and immediately I knew something was wrong…..
I ran to the far edge of the paddock and found a nervous Goldie standing over a white calf. He was shaking, shivering, barely breathing. These are the first things I noticed…alone, at the house, with three small children in tow. I called Brian who was away at a full day of training for the Fire Department. “What’s wrong?!,” he asked as I panted into the other end of the line. “It doesn’t matter what’s wrong! We are going to lose this calf if you don’t come home RIGHT NOW!,” I replied, out of breath from running to the edge of the paddock, then back to the house to make the phone call. Even though I occasionally bitch and moan about the requirements of my husband’s job, I respect the importance of it and greatly respect the men (like my husband) who put in the hours to do the work……I knew I had an emergency on my hands and was only calling him out of sheer necessity.
Luckily, he was able to make it home in under an hour, the entire time during which I panted and paced with the children in my care. I tried not to worry Goldie, but am afraid I failed at this. I wanted to have the truck and blankets ready for when Brian arrived, I wanted the extraction to be quick and painless for everyone involved. When Brian pulled up in the Subie, I warned him that I didn’t know if extracting the calf was possible, that I wanted to consider the calf’s health and Goldie’s health as well as our health (which basically amounted to not getting speared in the side with a giant horn – or worse). He felt like his ability to grab a calf and jump a fence was better than mine (to which I agreed) and I felt like my ability to sway a cow away from her calf was better than his (and we were right). I grabbed some cake and was finally able to gradually pull Goldie away from the calf in a manner that kept additional stress entirely out of the situation. AMAZING!Brian thrust the calf onto the blanket in the back of the truck, I sprinted over and hopped in to start rubbing him to encourage blood flow all over his weak, cold little body. We had the fire going in the house and a little bed next to it ready for his arrival. I had already pulled all of our “survival equipment” out, including the feeding tube, nipples, and vitamin shots. For a while he tried to nurse on the colostrum mix we had prepared, though after a short time, it didn’t seem like he was getting much down. Pretty soon, I decided it was time to tube him….something I’ve done before in goats, but never in a calf. The simple problem with tubing an animal is that you may confuse the trachea (breathing tube) with the esophagus (feeding tube), and despite the fact that my husband and I both have been through EMT training, we have never practiced life saving measures on a baby cow…. With our two oldest children sitting on the couch watching with bated breath, I quickly hoped that I wouldn’t kill the calf in front of them and carefully placed the feeding tube down the left side of the calf’s throat. He moo’d, and struggled, and then generally accepted the warm liquid that we pumped into his stomach….his stomach, thankfully, and NOT his lungs…. Then, the wait began. According to the vet, turn-around after this point is quick and hasty. You will suddenly find yourself with an eager calf, destroying your living room, anxious to play and find his next meal…. This was not the case with our little guy. As I write this, he is still laying at my feet, next to the wood stove, awaiting the sudden *kick* of that life-force that drives us all to thrive on this earth. According to the vet (and to my calculations) he is premature. Perhaps this is the reason he struggles to survive. When I listened to his chest upon his arrival in the house, I thought everything sounded normal (regular heartbeat, no fluid in the lungs) – the Vet confirmed this to be true. Our only hope for this little guy is that he is simply premature, and waiting for that ‘life-drive’ to kick in and inspire those instincts to stand, to suckle, to nurse, to play. Until then, I will be here, on the great room floor, by the wood stove, coaxing an infant cow to please *please* not ruin tomorrow’s Mothers Day, to give me everything I expect from young children: a destroyed house, an abundance of energy, and a demand for food that rivals no other than that of a growing, wanting, needing child. A dreamer, a hoper, a survivor….is that too much to ask?