Saturday morning, 9:44 am. Brian walks through the back door and sets a bucket of milk on the counter. “The cows ate an entire bag of chicken feed,” he guffaws.
“Oh, shit,” was my reply.
“Yeah, tell me about it,” he says, “that’s 20 bucks down the drain.”
“Well, that and we’ll be lucky if it doesn’t kill them.”
By the time we had exchanged these few words, I was already dressed and heading out the door to the barn. I eked out some quick math in my head: 50 pounds of layer pellets, two cows, my lead cow probably ate a little more than the heifer…okay, it could be worse.
I walked out into the paddock and took a look at my girls. Honey, my heifer, was happily munching on some hay looking no worse for the wear. It was only when I saw Deluxe that I knew…there is no way this situation could possibly be any worse. It was so painfully obvious. I went back to doing math in my head. 50 pounds of layer pellets, 1 cow, my favorite cow, my Deluxe. Shit.
We generally use two vets here on the Acre; one who maintains a ‘practice’ here in the valley and one who does not, but is willing to come and help out and show me how to handle things mostly on my own. I called the latter of the two first. His advice was to call the practicing vet because he was out of town and she needed to be seen. So I did just that. Our practicing vet arrived shortly thereafter and decided to tube Deluxe in order to get some water, antacids, and activated charcoal into her stomach to help her system deal with the overload. Then we watched and waited.
About 24 hours later, Deluxe was eating small amounts of hay and looking slightly more expressive with her ears. It was obvious that she was uncomfortable, but she was up and moving with positive gut sounds and stable vitals. I took her out for a walk to see if I could interest her in some browse and offered her a clean bucket of water. I finally stuck her in our hay stores, hoping she would find something of interest to munch on and introduce some much needed fiber into her system. She ate some, but not much, and we hoped we would see her slowly eat more and slowly get better. We’d had a discussion about the possibility of her going down and where we wanted that to happen if it came to that. But after talking with the vets throughout the day, we felt that we were close to being past that point. We thought she was going to recover.
By Monday morning, she appeared the same as she had for most of the weekend. Slow going. Mostly uninterested in feed. Uncomfortable. I had a scheduled afternoon chat with the vet, so I kept my eye on her until around lunchtime. I fed the kids their lunch and went out to get the final set of vitals before calling to give an update. As I walked out to Deluxe, I found that she was down in the pasture, bloated like a large balloon. I used my stethoscope to confirm the pinging sound so often associated with bloat and acidosis. I tried to get her standing in between calls to both vets. I could only get in touch with the vet who doesn’t maintain a local practice, he was out of town again. We discussed things I already knew, things I had read, things I had never tried on a cow before. We ended the call with a general agreement that I didn’t have the proper tools to tube a cow and calling our practicing vet again was my best option. But I had already called the other vet. Twice. The tools. The tools might be around here somewhere if I am willing to think outside the box…
I knew I had a garden hose I could cut a section out of. This would be the tube I would insert into her stomach to release the gas building up in her rumen. The only other thing I needed was a hard metal tube to insert between her teeth and thread the hose through. Otherwise, she would bite down on the hose and cut off the open release valve for the gas. The wind blew. The wind chimes rang. I looked out the window and I saw it. The wind chimes were made of long metal tubes just slightly larger in diameter than the garden hose. Perfect.
I cut a single chime out of the present my mother had given to my husband when we first moved to this property. I cut the garden hose to the proper length. I gathered a bucket of water, some mineral oil, baking soda, fiber powder, a long blade knife, and my 9mm…just in case. I told the kids to get ready to go outside to play for a bit because Mommy had to go help Deluxe. Then I called my husband to see if he could take the rest of the day off work.
I made my way to the paddock and tied Deluxe so she was standing uphill. I put the metal tube in her mouth and slowly started to insert the hose through the tube. It was hard to tell if she was swallowing. I pushed the tube in until I felt a slight resistance, then I listened. No gas was coming out, but I wasn’t quite in her stomach yet. My nerves got the best of me and I pulled the hose out. At that exact moment, my husband arrived home from work. I began to place the metal tube back into her mouth as my husband seamlessly picked up Deluxe’s head and grabbed a hold of the tube so I could thread the hose down into her stomach. A quick release of gas turned into a steady stream pouring out of the hose. I smelled the end of the hose for good measure. It burned my nose hairs and I jumped and cussed and gagged and felt relief. It was working. Her sides were going down as I massaged over her paralumbar fossa. I funneled in some oil, some water with baking soda and fiber mixed in, then I pulled the hose and let off a big sigh. Then we pushed and pulled and got her standing in the barn on level ground.
By that time, the vet had received my messages and was heading in our direction. She advised us to see if we could find anyone who had butchered a cow, a deer, any grazing animal so that we could remove the fluids from their rumen to transplant into Deluxe. It has worked miracles before, she said. It should have hit me then…we were looking for a miracle. But I was focused on the problem at hand; the bloating. Fifteen minutes after I had spoken with her on the phone, the vet arrived at the barn doors to find Deluxe fully bloated again. She tubed her and released some of the gas before pouring in some surfactant to help reduce the bloating…but it only got worse. She stabbed her paralumbar fossa to help release the gas and even though we could hear it rushing out from her side, her shape only got larger. We all knew what was happening. She was dying. I pulled the 9mm from my side, leaned my head out the door to tell the children to go over to the porch by the house, put one in the chamber and turned to face Deluxe…but she was gone. My milk cow. My favorite cow. Gone.
As I write this, my husband is in the barn carefully carving up steaks which we will feed to our dogs that tirelessly guard our livestock. As I write this, my kids are outside playing in the dirt pile by the barn, wondering when dinner will be ready. As I write this, I am sitting on my porch, drinking a very nice single malt scotch, tears streaming down my face. I slowly pick myself up from the porch chair and wipe the tears from my cheek as I move into the kitchen to prepare dinner for the kids. And as I look to see what time it is, I notice that the clock is stuck, as it has been for days, at 9:44 am. And I raise my glass. And I break, all over again.
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility: For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen.”
– Kahlil Gibran