It Is Not All Laughs

The main purpose of this blog is to provide some laughs related to farm/ranch life. I am an optimist and I try very hard to see the”lighter side” of this profession.

Anyone who is involved in raising animals for food knows that it is not always fun and games. All sorts of people are ready to pass their judgment on whether what we do meets their standards.  This judgment is fine with me. Welcomed even. People should know where their food comes from and feel comfortable with the choices they make in feeding themselves and their families.

Recently, I was reminded that there are trade-offs for everything. “Nature” is a cruel mistress, even on a farm that represents the idyllic preferences many people hold up as the preferred image of food animal production.

Two weeks ago, hubby told me he was worried about one cow who had been in labor too long. He took oldest son with him to check on her. Son #2 was also outside but soon came into the house and asked me for hubby’s cell phone.

Worried, I asked “Does he need to call the vet?”
“Yep” was son’s reply as he took the phone and headed back out.

Soon, I saw an unfamiliar vehicle over by the cattle yard and figured I better go see if more help was needed. Instead of the vet, I found hubby and a neighbor working at pulling a calf that absolutely would not budge. (The vet was already out on another emergency call).

At first, they were concerned the calf was breech (backwards). Soon, it was obvious that the front legs were coming first (normal presentation), but it still would not move. The calf was dead at this point and the main concern was trying to get it delivered and save momma. It was too far into the birth canal for a C-section, so the calf needed to come out soon or they would need to go in and cut it apart to deliver it.

A quick exam showed that there were two more legs immediately behind the calf’s head, which meant there were four legs in the birth canal. The fear now was that this was a set of twins trying to come out at the same time…or a seriously deformed single calf.

After a few more pulls, something gave way and the calf slid out. It was not normal. Its spine had developed with a 180 degree curve near the hips (hence the back legs pointed in the same direction as the front ones). The rib cage is what finally relented and broke apart to allow the delivery. I will spare you additional details.

Hubby has spent the past two weeks trying to save momma’s life.

As a result of the difficult delivery, she could not stand on her own. If allowed to lay around, she would waste away and die. Her front legs were OK, but it her hind legs could not support any weight. She was eager to eat and drink when feed and water are offered, so we decided to give her as much assistance as possible to see if she could recover.

Keeping her alive involves a contraption borrowed from the vet. It is metal and spans across her back and has two rigid loops that encircle her hip bones. When it is time to “stand up”, this device is tightened to fit snugly and a chain attached. The other end of the chain is attached to our tractor bucket and she is slowly lifted by her hips until she is standing. She is left in this standing position as long as the poor tractor’s hydraulics allow (about an hour or two).

This “standing time” keeps somewhat normal circulation going and even after all this time, she seems largely healthy. Unfortunately for her, the lack of any progress in being able to stand on her own or move her leg means the injury is not going to heal on its own….or at all.

We are considering two choices. Three actually, but the third choice is to simply let her die on her own–which will probably be a slow, painful process. We will not do that.

The other choices are to euthanize her and dispose of the carcass or butcher her and at least salvage some meat. Since she cannot stand up, no commercial facility will take her–nor should they. They would only have our word on the fact that her problems are due to an injury and not disease.

We are probably going to try and get hamburger if possible. The medications she was given after her calf was delivered are now past the withdrawl period (the time required between administration of the medicine and when it is has been cleared from the system). The next question is to figure out whether enough of the meat will be usable or if large sections will be bruised or damaged as a result of laying down so much.

Decisions need to be made fairly quickly now. I suspect there will be much second-guessing. I guarantee no one will be laughing.

 

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About jheem

I grew up on a diversified dairy farm in southeast South Dakota where I learned how to throw a hay bale, pull a calf, deal with death, and "name" the cows. I was in 4H and FFA, and was privileged to serve as a state FFA officer. In college, I studied animal science, focusing on beef cows, mostly because I figured they were less work than dairy cows....I ended up with a Masters Degree in ruminant nutrition and went to work for the University of Nebraska, first as a research tech coordinating data collection for a swine unit and beef feedlot on a research farm and then as an extension educator. In my current job, I focus on environmental issues related to animal agriculture (which is a nice way of saying I talk about manure alot). My husband and I live and work on a seedstock cattle operation in northeast Nebraska. You can learn more about our cattle operation by visiting my husband's blog at http://aldersonangus.wordpress.com.
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