Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Life ain't always beautiful

Depending on what tomorrow brings today’s blog post will very likely be in two parts. I started the day will a good plan for the morning that would allow me to be back home by 11a.m. to take a shower and then head up to Spokane to pickup Christine and Samantha returning from San Antonio. The first order of business was to feed the yearlings and that was uneventful and I left the ranch ahead of schedule for Basin City where the main group of calving cows now resides.

The 15 mile drive went fine through the fog and I entered the corn field and began my rounds.The cows are really in full calving mode now and after checking the main group I ventured towards three individual cows that had isolated themselves a bit to have their calves. This went fairly well except the cows at this location are a bit on edge because of some coyote pressure. They are being extra protective of their newborn calves and one cow would not allow me to tag her calf today. In many instances in an open winter coyotes are not a huge problem but there are 2 packs each with three and four members respectively in the vicinity. They were both four member groups but yesterday I sent one to coyote heaven because that pack had been circling a cow and new calf the night before. I hoped this would discourage the rest of them and I did not see any sign of them this morning which I was thankful for. After checking the rest of the group I made sure there was not anyone else off by themselves and headed for the gate still well ahead of schedule.

Just as I was about to drive out of the field I noticed some movement in a far corner in some thick brush. I took out my binoculars and could see a cow on her side calving in the distance. Mature mother cows like these rarely have any issues with calving but since I was ahead of schedule I decided I would drive over and take a look. Watching a calf actually be born is as inspiring now as it was when I saw my first calf born 39 years ago. As soon as I arrived and was close to her I could see the day was taking a turn for the worst. The cow had obviously been struggling to calve for some time and all that was protruding from her was a rear end and a tail. Breech births happen from time to time but usually a mature cow will still have the calf on their own. The fact that no legs were protruding and by the ground surrounding the cow it was clear that she had been struggling for awhile and would need some help.

She could stand up but could barely walk so I was able to rope her and tie her to the pickup with a halter. I gave the cow an oxytocin injection to help with her contractions and then started to see what was going on with my eyes, hands and arms. Some people always seem to want to ask a question when they see someone in a cowboy hat, “Are you a real cowboy?” Well I do not know the exact criterion for such a thing but once you have had your arms in a cow’s vagina up to your shoulders I think you qualify as being “real” by default. The cow was too far along to push the calf back in so there was very little room to work. When dealing with this situation you have to use your hands to “see” what is going on inside, I could tell it was a set of twins with the first calf breech without leg extension and the twin upside down with its head between the rear legs of the top calf.

I could not manipulate a leg back and out so I finally threaded a ob chain around one back leg up against the flank. Anyone who has done this can tell you how smashed your hand can sometimes get between the calf and the cows pelvic bone. This happened a few times today and my one hand is pretty swollen tonight. I got the cow over on her side and pulled by hand with my feet against her and once the hips passed the pelvic area the calf came out with ease. I had hoped it may possibly still have some life but showed none when I got it out but I still hurriedly tried some revival techniques. Despite chest compressions, hanging the calf up by its legs to stimulate breathing and both sucking mucus from the lungs of the calf through his nostrils with my bare mouth and then spitting the mucus on the ground and also blowing air in to inflate the lungs I failed to revive the calf. I was very disappointed, frustrated and a bit angry for sure but glad the calf was out, I then removed the twin sister which was not totally developed and also showed no signs of life.

These processes always release a flood of adrenaline and when you are sitting there with two dead calves, a sweating head and covered in blood, amniotic fluid and cowshit it is a terrible feeling. You just feel sick to your stomach and really distraught and empty inside. I gave the cow some penicillin and an anti inflammatory injection, removed the halter, removed my wet sleeved shirt, stomped back to the pickup and headed home knowing I would be late getting to Spokane. The whole way home I struggled with the loss and really missed my Dad because he could always make me feel better when dealing with this type of thing.

When I got home I took a hot shower and as I watched the red, yellow and brown stained water circle the drain I contemplated how to make myself feel better for the 120 mile drive to Spokane. Dad always had comforting words and even though I could hear him saying, “You cant save them all son” it was a small comfort. Tomorrows post will be about that drive to Spokane and how I deal with these setbacks.

Today’s real environmentalist species is the bull snake aka Pituophis catenifer sayi.

Today’s picture is of a “sand saddle” that was at the trade show at the NCBA convention last week.