First of all I said I had a bit of a follow up to last week’s story. (If you missed last week’s newsletter, you can grab it HERE.)
I’d mentioned the cow on the trailer that charged everyone that walked by it last week and some of you might have assumed that was the cow that charged Watson and I (we named her Killer, by the way ; ).
A lucky fellow to the north of us got that sweet thing. (Sarcasm – it doesn’t always translate into print very well, but I think you ALL got that one. lol) Anyway, the truck driver went on up to his farm after he dropped our cows off, since that guy was getting the rest of the cows on the trailer.
We don’t know that fellow, but we’d talked to the truck driver and chatted about the cow that charged everyone while we were unloading our cows. The truck driver told us the next day that the farmer had him back into a field and he opened the gate and let the cows out straight into the field.
Now, it was about midnight when they did that.
The truck driver said that charging, crazy cow, ran off the trailer, across the field, through the fence on the other side and he figured she was halfway back to Texas by the time he talked to us the next morning.
He did not help the dude chase her back in.
Also, Killer was in the bottom pasture with our fall herd, and we wanted her and the bull across the driveway.
We didn’t mess with her for two days, but as Watson was leaving for Pennsylvania on Wednesday he said to us, “That new cow has settled down pretty good. “You girls,” – speaking to the two little girls and me since Julia was going with him to PA – “Can grab her and the dark bull and chase them across the driveway.”
I told you Watson thinks I’m Superwoman.
So, I’ve told you about the ponies that the girls have that weigh about 350 pounds. They’re just little things, but the girls ride them bareback and they’ve been chasing cows with them. They begged me to let them chase Killer and the bull up through the bottom pasture, across the upper pasture and across the driveway into the pasture on the other side.
Well, I’m a terrible mom, because I told them to go for it. I figured the ponies could outrun the cows, and as long as the girls didn’t fall off, they’d be fine.
As sure as I sit here, those two little girls used their ponies and chased Killer and the bull across both pastures and put them right where Watson wanted them.
So, pretty much every day for the last week I’ve heard, “Mom you’re old. We got the cow that you couldn’t get.” Then they add under their breath, “Probably because you were too scared.”
Sigh. Children keep you humble, right?
Okay, so here’s a story from last spring:
I had mentioned before that a farmer who lived up the mountain from us in PA had passed away and we’d bought his herd of Angus. Some of them were pretty wild.
Crooked Nose was one of them. She was the wildest of the bunch.
Actually, last fall when we did a herd check, she was so wild we couldn’t even get her in the pen with the other cows, let alone put her through the chute. She jumped over one fence and broke through another, and we let her go.
(I feel like I just made a political statement.)
As the time came closer this spring for her to have her calf, I wondered what it was going to be like. You know what my job is, right? Keeping my family from being killed by crazy mama cows who are trying to protect their babies while they tag and band the little ones.
I kind of thought things might get a little hairy with Crooked Nose since her level of crazy seemed to match mine. : )
One day in May, she was off by herself, and we suspected she was in labor. We watched her that day, and nothing seemed to be happening. Sometimes a first calf—like a first child—can take a long time. This was her first calf with us, and we honestly weren’t sure if she’d had a calf before or not.
We figured she’d have it that night.
The next morning, she was lying down, not eating, and seemed to be in a lot of discomfort, but no pushing.
We called the vet.
Ha. With the vet coming, that meant we needed to figure out a way of containing her. Thankfully, she’d been in labor for 24 hours, and she wasn’t quite as spry as she usually was, although she did jog ahead of us to the little pen we have down by the creek. We got her in it without too much trouble, which surprised me, and by the time the vet, Dr. K—a slender twenty-something who might weigh a hundred pounds with her boots on—arrived, we actually had a rope around Crooked Nose’s neck and were working to fashion a halter of some kind and get her tied to a fence post without getting crushed.
Some of you probably know this, and some of you might even know the physical science behind it, but when you lift a cow’s tail straight up in the air, they can’t lift their back legs, which means they can’t kick you.
Dr. K was going to have to conduct an internal exam. In my experience, dairy cows kick out wider to the side, beef cows kick hard and fast straight back.
Watson “tailed” Crooked Nose, and it only took Dr. K a few seconds to tell us she had a twisted uterus.
That’s pretty uncommon, although we’d had it once before, early this spring. The cow—Little Red—who’d been twisted, survived. We almost lost her calf. We pulled it, and in order to save it, the vet had picked it up and swung it around, using centrifugal force to get the birth fluids out of its lungs. Lucky, which is what we named her, survived, but her front leg was dislocated—either from being pulled or from the vet’s life-saving swinging. Regardless, Big Red rejected Lucky, refusing to clean her off or feed her.
Big Red went down the road, and Lucky became one of two orphans my middle daughter fed all summer.
Anyway, when Dr. K said she was twisted, we knew what she was saying.
First, she had to figure out which way the uterus was twisted. (When I say twisted, it’s basically twisted the whole way around, and we have to roll the cow to untwist it.)
Now, there’s a way you can put a rope over a cow—down under the front legs, straight down the backbone, and down under the udder and around the other side—that will drop the cow to the ground.
Sounds great, but we had to avoid the flying hooves while we tried to position the rope. Crooked Nose had our halter on and was tied to the fence post (and the fence post was solid, thankfully) but could move her body 180 degrees.
We also had to be ready when we dropped her—not only did she have to drop to the right side so we could roll her to the left, but we also had to loosen her head so her body weight wasn’t pulling on her head and neck.
Her head also needed room to roll and not get caught on the fence post.
It all sounds kind of simple as I’m explaining it, but when you’re dealing with a struggling, scared, fifteen-hundred-pound cow who missed her calling as a kamikaze pilot, it’s a little more difficult than it sounds.
Anyway, we did manage to get her down, and with the rope around her body, she couldn’t get back up.
Now, as we were rolling her—sloooowly—over, Dr. K had a two-by-four she set over Crooked Nose’s side. She used her body to put pressure on the uterus to keep the calf and uterus from rolling with the cow. This would cause the uterus to untwist.
Sounds crazy, but we got her over, loosened the rope to stand her up, and Watson tailed her while Dr. K checked her. We were successful. The uterus was untwisted.
Unfortunately, since the uterus had been twisted throughout her labor and all contractions, there had been no pressure from the calf on the inside of the cervix to cause it to dilate. The cervix was barely open, and to try to get chains on the calf and pull it through would almost certainly tear it and possibly keep Crooked Nose from healing properly or cause other complications.
Dr. K was willing to pull the calf, but it wasn’t the best thing for Crooked Nose and she didn’t want to.
So…Dr. K looked at me and said, “It could be five or six hours until the cervix is dilated. She’ll probably have it herself, naturally, but are you going to be able to deliver this calf if she has trouble?”
We’re pretty far out, and it takes an hour to get to our farm from the vet’s office. If there was any trouble while we were trying to deliver the calf, no one was going to be able to pop over and help us.
I can’t lie. I mean, I can try, but no one ever believes me. And I don’t have a poker face. I wish. But in situations like this—life-and-death things, I guess—I always look calm, I guess. Probably because my brain processes slowly.
I said, “I can,” although I didn’t know whether that was true or not. I suppose what I really meant was “I’ll do my best.” But that didn’t seem very confident. I lifted a shoulder and had my chin up, and I must have had my “mean face” on, which is my thinking face, but my kids never understood that and always called it my “mean” face.
Anyway, Dr. K jerked her head down and started cleaning up her stuff. Watson left Crooked Nose loose, so she could labor naturally, but we kept her in the pen.
We all had things to do, so Dr. K left and we went about our day.
Six hours later, Dr. K texted and wanted to know if Crooked Nose had had the calf.
Dr. K texted: If you want that calf to be born alive, you’d better go pull it.
Ha. I guess that was on me since I was the one who’d said I could deliver it.
Yeah, so anyway, we had to catch her and tie her up.
There were no feet out, and she really wasn’t pushing much.
So…I had washed my arms up to my shoulders, and Watson tailed her while I stuck my hand…well, anyway.
Now, I’ve pulled plenty of calves, and I’ve put chains on plenty of calves’ feet, and occasionally, I’ve put chains on calves’ feet that are still in the birth canal.
You have to make sure you have two feet from the same end. (I pulled a calf once where the dude putting the chains on got it wrong, and I’ll never tell that story.)
The feet were in the birth canal, but there was no sweet little nose snuggled between them like there should have been.
I could feel legs the whole way back to the cervix. They were big legs. That concerned me. It also concerned me that I couldn’t find a nose.
Plus, I’d never felt a cow’s cervix before, but I knew that’s what the tough lip was way back, and it was most definitely not fully dilated.
Anyway, I carefully put the chains on both front legs—when they’re still in the birth canal, you have to be careful not to get any part of the mama pinched in under the chains. Plus, you need to get the chains up over the hocks. Both of those things are a little challenging when you have both hands in the birth canal, which is not exactly roomy, and are working strictly by feel.
Crooked Nose wasn’t exactly standing still, and when she pushed, ha, it was hard to keep my hands in, not to mention things got a little tight.
Anyway, I got the chains on, and I really thought we were home free. Watson pulled on one, and we had a fellow helping us who pulled on the other.
They got about six inches of the front legs out, but still no nose.
I reached in to make sure the head was straight, but I could feel the whole way back to the cervix, and there was no nose, no head, nothing but legs.
Putting one hand in as far as I could, through the cervix and into the uterus, I reached around, feeling like time was essential…the calf had moved its leg once, and we were encouraged that it was still alive, but it needed to be delivered immediately…and finally felt an ear! Yay. At least it had a head. I had been concerned in a corner of my mind that we were dealing with something that wasn’t going to look like a calf when it came out, just saying.
It took me a bit, but I finally figured out that the cervix hadn’t dilated enough to allow the head to fit through along with the legs, so as the legs came out, the lip of the cervix acted like a roadblock. The calf’s head hit it, and rather than sliding through, it slid to the side as the legs came out.
So, the head was twisted back, like the calf was looking behind itself. I was pretty blessed to have been able to grab an ear.
Once we figured out the issue, we knew we had to push the calf back in (between contractions, because there was no way we could push against Crooked Nose) and get the head in position so the calf could slip out of the uterus.
Well, I got the calf straightened out, but the cervix was just not big enough for the head and those big legs to all fit through at the same time.
So, I have both arms in the birth canal and am gripping the cervix with both hands, trying to pull it apart and stretch it while the guys are pulling and Crooked Nose is stepping from one side to the other between contractions, and if that isn’t something that’s weird—feeling like a third of your body is in this cow and everything gets all tight around you and your arms are jammed against the calf that’s not moving—and I’m wondering if Crooked Nose jerks to the side if she’s gonna break my arm, and I’m thinking that’s gonna hurt.
We’re pushing time because the calf had moved, but we hadn’t felt it move again, and it’s been in distress for a while. We really want to get it out and at least give it a chance.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I have more crazy than brains, and I’m not that strong, but finally we’re able to get the nose started through the cervix and keep it aligned as the head comes through.
At that point, it’s a matter of pulling and pulling hard. We know we’re going to rip the cervix as the calf comes through, but we’re thinking of saving the calf and feel like we don’t have a choice.
Crooked Nose has been through a lot, but she’s strong and healthy (and being crazy does come in handy at times), and she’s still pushing.
There are two chains, but the handles have hooks on them, and we have three handles, so once the head has come through the cervix, I’ve grabbed a handle and hooked it on Watson’s chain and am pulling as hard as I can with him.
My arms feel like gummy worms (inside and out, I guess) by the time we see the head appear. Man, that’s what we’ve been wanting to see all day. A few more pulls and the front shoulders come out.
Once the shoulders are out, usually the rest of the calf slips out easily, but with the tight cervix and the size of this calf, we had to pull pretty hard to get the rest out.
It flops on the ground and just lays there.
Now, I’m sorry, but I didn’t do all of that work just to have that calf die on me, so I beat on her side until Watson picks her up and flings her around the way the vet had with Big Red’s calf.
She coughs as Watson drops her back on the ground, and I hold my breath, excited. There’s still a chance.
I lean over and scoop all the goop I can out of her nose and mouth, and she moves one hoof.
Her chest shakes, and she takes a breath.
A few more seconds and we can see her chest trembling with her heartbeat and rising with more shaky breaths.
I’m still not sure she’s going to make it, but we untie Crooked Nose and stand back. There’s nothing more we can do, and we wait for her to start cleaning the calf off.
As she does, I realize what unique markings this huge heifer calf has—two white feet and a tail that is three quarters white. Different than any of our other cows.
I’m honestly shocked, but that heifer not only lives, she’s totally healthy. (Crooked Nose survived as well and, as far as we can tell, healed up okay.) Julia named her Rodeo. She’s a sweetheart. : )