Cow death and blessing…

Friends, it’s been a tough year for us. With my dear mother in law’s cancer diagnosis and the roller coaster of ups and downs and constant prayer, sick animals, totaled car, injured husband…and all the normal stuff that goes with being a parent to three beautiful boys and a wanna-be farmer. Whew!

Let me give you some history on this post. In May, I purchased two beef calves (Angus and Angus cross) to bottle feed until my milk cow freshened around June 4. Calves are hard to come by this year because the price of cattle is high, so they are in demand (and they are spendy)! So, I brought Elliott and Samuel home. I was going to bring another younger one home with me, but he had fallen sick with a temperature and diarrhea so the rancher didn’t feel comfortable sending me home with him. Just as well, I thought at that point because two was plenty of work to do. And…the price! Samuel fell sick the next day. Went off the bottle, stopped eating. I called The Rancher and he said penicillin. Of course, I had LA200, but no penicillin, so emergency 28 mile trip to town to get penicillin. While I was there, I bought a bag/tube feeder…just in case. Gave him the penicillin and by the next morning he was doing great. A couple weeks passed and he fell sick again. Called The Rancher and did more penicillin, but he didn’t get better. He was running temps around 102.5-105 and not eating. Finally after talking to the vet, after 3 days of this, we pulled his milk replacer, gave him fancy electrolytes and probiotics and a dose of LA200 (followed by another 3 days later). He was better the next day.

My cow freshened on Sunday, June 8 with a little heifer calf-full Jersey. The calf was to go back to the original owner since he AI’d her before I purchased her from him. He would come pick her up in a week. I kept bottle feeding Elliott and Samuel until then and gave Samuel some colostrum and gave them both some cows milk to get their tummies used to it. On Saturday, June 14th, I put the calves on the cow. She wasn’t too happy since she was missing her baby and they didn’t seem to understand what they were supposed to do, having been used to the bottle now for 3 months. After Samuel nursed that first night, he went and lay down in the straw in the “green barn”. The next day, he was slow, lethargic. He would eat a little and be interested in nursing, but then stretch out. I didn’t notice him peeing as I normally did, but he didn’t seem dehydrated, either. I gave him a shot of penicillin just in case. Using penicillin so I could use LA200 if it didn’t work (because you can’t use LA200 first and then follow up with penicillin because of the long life span of the LA200). He didn’t get better. I thought he was dying! He laid in the gray barn and grunted. I tubed him mineral oil and water because he acted like he was trying to poop and nothing would come out…and he still wasn’t better. Finally Tuesday I called the vet and he came out at 1pm. We decided he had a blockage and his penis would have to be removed and poor Samuel would be turned into a Samantha. I squeezed the pallet while Randy (the vet) cut and sewed his magic. Immediately the urine ran out of Samuel. So, the gamble was worth it. Whew.

Samuel never really got any better. He would go and lay down and then come out to nurse. I babied him along and saved a quarter for him to nurse on every morning after I was done milking and I would catch the cow for him to come nurse in the evenings, but he was never vigorous after that and when I finally made up my mind that I would sell him and get a little money for him (per two friends’ advice), he fell sick again. Same thing…all stretched out, no pee, acting like he needed to poop and laying down and grunting. I know this sounds harsh, but by this time I was pretty tired of looking at his gaunt, pathetic, lethargic self. I was tired of babying a 4 month old calf and I had even moved past the emotional trauma of FAILURE, believe it or not. My husband said it wasn’t that big of a deal that I potentially lost $600 (the cost of the calf and all the vet bills), because I tried. But whew! Six. Hundred. Bucks. Actually, probably Seven. Hundred and Fifty. Bucks. That’s a lot of money to me, still! A hundred bucks is a lot of money to me still! Shoot, I’d even attempt back flips if someone gave me $20! 🙂

So, I couldn’t sell him in the shape he was in. I called the vet. Samuel had now not nursed for over 36 hours and I told him, “Fine. Just die.” He ate a little grain, but that was it and that probably made the problem worse in retrospection. The vet said his kidneys were probably backing up and there was nothing we could do. He was hard and very tender in his upper right quadrant. He died that afternoon. Seven hundred and fifty bucks … dead in the barn. More than that, my plans to raise a beef for profit. Dead. In the barn. I guess you call it Urinary Calculi and it is supposedly a nutritional deficiency, but the little guy didn’t eat much grain ever…as a matter of fact, he didn’t eat much of anything, period. My dad said a few months back that, “Sometimes they deserve to die.” I think this might have been the case.

Well, as is the case in farm life, you have to move on. So, the kids and I went out with a rope and I tied it around his back legs (Elliott was laying next to him…to keep him company?) and pulled him out of the barn. Heaved, is more like it. I may have said, “Shit” a time or two, but I got him out. Then we got the lawn tractor and tied him up and drug him out of the pasture. I had told Randy (the vet) on the phone that I would cut into him if he died to see if he was full of urine. So, we found gloves and a few box cutters that we wouldn’t miss if they ended up in the trash. We, as in my boys (ages 6, 3, and 14 months). And the anatomy lesson started…up wind just in case it sprayed out. I didn’t have to cut far before urine drained out of his upper right quadrant (mind you, he was laying on the ground). I left him there because I didn’t want his guts falling out and then no way to load him to wherever I decided he’d lay to rest. And my husband’s back is in no shape to be loading a dead calf, albeit only 250 pounds.

The neighbors let us borrow their tractor and the next afternoon we buried the calf out back. I’m sure the FedEx guy was wondering what the deal was with the dead calf cut open (only an eight inch incision) laying on the ground next to the shop!

In normal mental fashion, I second-guessed everything I had ever done with that calf. Everything I fed him, didn’t feed him. The vaccination, the booster. The LA200, the penicillin. EVERY. THING. I really wound myself up about this…even when I promised myself we’d move on. I hate death, but I hate, hate, HATE suffering even more and when I really thought about how much pain that little calf was in and how irritated I was at his pathetic self not getting better EVER, I was saddened and disappointed in myself. Goodness, though! Any rancher would have just let him die, so maybe I did too much? See the vicious circle my mind does to me?

I went for a horse ride for some decompression. I don’t get out on my horse as often as I’d like and this was much needed. When I got to the top of the highest hill behind my house (horse was ready to go, so we loped up there!) and looked out across the beautiful rolling Palouse, my heart lightened. If my God created all this and allows me to enjoy it and enjoy my horse, then he will not hold it against me that I wasn’t smart/strong/proactive enough to save this calf. Or whatever the right word/sentiment is.

All the frustration of the week…PMS, my mother in law’s health, my husband’s injury to his back, my exhaustion over doing EVERY. Thing (or so it feels), the calf and my Plans…seemed to dissipate…at least for that hour with my horse.

When I returned home the frustration was still there and I would like to recount that I managed it well, but I did not.

I did decide that I would call The Rancher and let him know about Samuel the morning before he died. Since he was a twin, maybe the twin would exhibit symptoms and he should know. I had not called him about the surgery and so I left a lengthy message regarding the last six weeks of history. Then Samuel died. The Rancher called back late that evening and said his twin was fine, but that he had another calf he wanted to give me. GIVE. As in a free cow. People don’t give cows away. Horses, maybe. Dogs, yes. Cows, no. I told him that was not my purpose for calling him and letting him know but he insisted. Wow! What an unexpected blessing! He said just to give him a few days heads up before I came and picked up the other one (the little one that was sickish when I first when to pick the calves up). He also had a heifer calf and was worried how she would do by herself.

I thought I’d pick up the calf and offer him some money, but then he’d refuse. Then I thought I’d pick up the calf and send them a gift card afterwards, but that seemed cheesy. So, I called him just two days ago and I said, “This sounds crazy, but you are worried about your heifer calf and I have the milk cow, what if I take the heifer calf, too? I’ll put her on my cow and raise her for a few months and you can have her back?” The Rancher said he would talk to his wife, but it might work. He called back a few minutes later and was happy and willing to do that.

Thursday (yesterday), after milking, I let the cow out and then stopped beside her to pray. I haven’t been very good about praying…REALLY praying, like letting my heart out to my Father. So, I did. I prayed that the cow would take the calves, the calves would know what to do, that this would be successful and I’m sure there was more I rambled off, but those were the biggies. Oh, and no one would DIE. Then I went in the house and got ready for the day. I had to have everyone out the door before 7:00am. We were out the door at 6:53!

We arrived at The Ranch and picked up the calves without hassle and even made it back to Sprague before we ran out of gas (oops, I forgot to look at the gauge when I went through Ritzville!). We got home after stopping for #2 to pee on the side of the road a few times and unloaded the calves. It was 93 degrees at 11am. My plan at this point (I had just made it up in my head) was to let them settle in and then bottle feed until this morning. So, we went in, had lunch and got everyone settled in for nap.

When Mason woke up from nap we went out and checked on the calves. I put the cow in the barn, tied her head and the heifer calf approached her and knew what to do. Boom, just like that. The cow didn’t kick and the calf did what she was supposed to. Joe, the other calf, has been bottle fed since birth, so he is kind of confused, but after some coaxing and bottle feeding decided he could explore a teat and got it figured out. These are big calves, Friends! 300-350 pounds, probably, so it’s not like I can wrestle them or straddle them to the cow! This is a complete answer to prayer. I haven’t been doing this long, but I grew up with cattle and it NEVER happens this easy. NEVER. Even the last time, the cow was kicking at the calves, the calves had been bottle fed so long they were stupid when it came to teats and udders. I looked at Mason and I said, “Mason! It never happens like this! God answered my prayer! And shame on me, I prayed a prayer and I didn’t even have the faith to believe it.” (But He was faithful despite my unbelief…wow.) He gave me what I didn’t deserve. WOW. Later yesterday Mason said, “God should be called Superman.” Even Superman doesn’t have what God does.

So, the moral of my story (to myself) is not to lose faith, Gretchen. Don’t worry about the dead calf because amazing blessing came out of him dying rather than me selling him, plus I learned a whole lot (and my vet box grew). And, it wasn’t my kids dying of kidney failure, or my husband, or myself, or my parents or in laws, horse or sister…or the cow who is worth more than that silly calf. Ya know? Perspective. I lose it…often. Perspective. I was blessed and I was in turn able to be a blessing to The Rancher and help him with his calf. Taking his calf might allow him a little free time and it might allow me a little free time (ironically, it will save me from milking every day). So, even when you think you have nothing left to give, Gretchen, (still preaching to myself) there is still something to give. Something to share. Some way to be a help to others. Light at the end of the tunnel. A beautiful rainbow after the storm. And God still provides. He still gives hope for a prosperous future, despite what circumstances may look like at any given point in life. Thank you, Lord for reminding me of this…in just the right time.

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