Downed Cow ~ Tuesday Tutorial ~ Part One

Boy has it been an exciting time around here these past few days.  We have been so busy that I have hardly had a chance to catch my breath.  Some of you have been friends of the farm long enough to know our cow, Princess well.  After two years and six bull calves, Princess was the very first Jersey heifer born to T Cupp Miniatures.  As her name indicates, she has been treated royally from birth and is one who will retire here on the farm as she is definitely a favorite (perhaps even THE favorite).

Princess as a newborn calf


Princess has had a history of being very dramatic starting with her first pregnancy in which she acted so miserable that I was convinced at 8 months gestation there was something terribly wrong with her and had Dr. Hunter from Westwood out on an emergency call to check on her.  He convinced me that she was just spoiled and "being a Jersey" and it turns out, he was right.  A month later she had a healthy calf with no complications.  (Jerseys are known for their drama and if you are interested in cattle who are all business, don't get a Jersey.  They are sure to complicate your life.)  After she had the calf, she was convinced that the calf SHOULD NOT nurse her and I spent a few weeks tying her up tight and forcing the calf on her until she finally accepted him.  After she figured out the whole nursing thing, she has ended up being a really good momma.

Considering Princess' history of being overly dramatic, I have learned over the years not to take her antics too seriously.  However, when one has spent as much time with a cow as I have with Princess, you do learn to know them pretty well.  On Friday and Saturday, Princess seemed very uncomfortable.  With her due date being Saturday, I thought it best to pen her up so that I could watch her closely.  It had been extremely cold here and we still had a good bit of snow on the ground.  I wanted her inside where we could keep the calf warm and dry when it was born.  Saturday night she didn't really look imminent but her demeanor gave us cause to get up every two hours and check on her.  Every time I would check on her, she would be standing in almost the same position.  She refused to eat or drink and remained very uncomfortable.

Sunday morning I was torn between continuing with our plans of going to church or staying home to watch out for Princess.  Finally, we decided that my daughter and I would go to Bible Study and then return home.  When I went outside, I found that there was ice on the windshield of our car and our driveway was very slick.  We were only a few miles from home when we got the message that the early service had been cancelled, and we turned around and came home.  I ran down to check on Princess and it became evident to me that she was not getting up and down like cows usually do when they are in labor (until they get to the pushing stage and then some will remain down).  She wasn't pushing with her contractions and she was pulling herself around the stable floor by her front feet but seemed unable to rise on her back feet.  (At that point she wasn't really trying to do anything.)  It had only been about an hour since I had last checked her but it was so evident that something was terribly wrong.  She was giving up and not even trying and I knew something had to be done quickly.  I called the emergency number for our vet clinic and had the on call vet on her way immediately.  Thankfully, she wasn't already out on a call and was able to arrive within 40 minutes time.

While waiting on the vet, I looked Princess over and tried to determine if she had milk fever (a calcium deficiency common especially in dairy cattle with some age on them).  Milk fever can slow down labor and cause problems for cows BEFORE delivery as well as afterwards.  Princess did not show the classic symptoms of milk fever.  Her ears were not droopy, nor were they cold to the touch (a good indicator of milk fever at first glance).  Just to be safe, I went ahead and administered a tube of CMPK gel.  When Dr. Stoneburner arrived, she took Princess temperature and it was within a normal range.  (A high fever would indicate possible infection.  A lower than normal temperature could indicate calcium deficiency/milk fever.)  Princess' temperature and other vital signs were absolutely normal.

Dr. Stoneburner then palpated and determined that Princess was dilated and while the calf was positioned front fee forward, it's head was turned back.  She immediately went to work to pull the calf.  Everytime the doctor would position the calf's head correctly and we would begin to pull, the calf's head would turn back and we were unable to get him out.  After a few minutes (that seemed much longer), the doctor retrieved a head snare from her truck and was able to keep the calf's head in the correct position using this tool so that we could pull the calf out.  The calf was a normal size and weight for a Mini Jersey, weighing about 25 pounds.

Dr. Stoneburner pulling the calf. 

It was extremely cold and we immediately went to work drying the calf off partially and then placing it in front of Princess in hopes that she would get up and lick it dry.  She did lick it a bit from where she lay but she just wouldn't get up.  We went ahead and continued drying the calf off because of the cold temperatures.  Once we knew he was safe, we turned our attention back to Princess.

Trying to get warm on a cold day!

Dr. Stoneburner then administered a pain killer (banamine) and injected Vitamin B Complex in hopes that it would be the boost Princess needed to get up on her own.  When the vet left, I turned my attention back to the little bull calf.  I tried giving him a bottle of colostrum in the barn but he was just too cold.  I then took him to the milk kitchen and began to warm him up.

Warming up by the heater in the kitchen

Once he was warm, I took colostrum that I had milked out from his momma and was able to finally get him to latch on and take it.  (It was a struggle.  I find Jersey bull calves to be especially dumb when it comes to getting started nursing.)  Once I got a little colostrum down him, I knew that he would be all right.

Tummy full and nice and warm

After getting the calf settled into his temporary home in the kitchen, I turned my attention back to Princess.  She was making absolutely no effort to try to get up.  We tried everything short of using a shocker (which I absolutely WILL NOT use and don't even own) to get her up.  She just wouldn't even try.  I then offered her water and food which she refused.  At this point, I began to realize that she hadn't eaten or drank anything in about 24 hours.  In other instances where we have had downed cows, they have always continued to eat and drink.  I became concerned as I knew without the will to eat and hydrate, we would lose Princess.

I continued to monitor Princess and offer her water and hay throughout the evening and into the night but she refused to help herself.  In the mean time, I milked a pint of colostrum at a time out of her and offered it to the calf every two hours.  By evening, the calf was trying to get up and walk around the kitchen but the floor was too slick for him.  I decided that taking him back down to his mother might be incentive enough for her to try to get up, or at least to eat and drink.  So, I picked him up and loaded  him in our little brown wagon and took him back down to his mother.

Little Man road in the wagon like a pro!

Little Man (as I started calling the calf) did provoke interest from his mother but she seemed to be declining quickly and made no effort to do anything other than call to him.  I left him in the stable with Princess checking on them throughout the night.

(To Be Continued)

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