Losing the Calves

I love posting pictures on social media sites of all the fun stuff around here: the fresh cut hay, cows grazing on rolling green pastures and cute baby calves. Farming is not all fun stuff though; it’s tough, sometimes so tough that you find yourself asking why you continue to do it. Sometimes those baby calves don’t make it for whatever reason, but reason beyond your control.

This spring, we have had a string of bad luck with our calving. We lost three heifer calves – all to freak things. I wrote the following post on my phone while the second one we lost was struggling to make it. When I wrote, we had done what we could for her and we were in wait & see mode:

towanda

Towanda and me on a random Tuesday night.

There’s a heifer calf in the barn struggling to live. While her future is bleak, there still is hope. I found myself in the same position a few years ago with a cow who is now seven years old. In a similar way it was a very cold day in March and she came unexpectedly. We brought both into heated parts of the barn. We dried each calf, rubbing them down with at least a half dozen towels. We “tubed” each calf, inserting a small tube down to their stomachs to get them colostrum with vital nutrients and immunities they need to fight off whatever they may have to fight off in these first few hours of life. We put blankets on them, said a little prayer and tried to make them as warm and comfortable as possible while we left to go do the next thing.

And now we wait. Last time, I went back to check on the baby calf at noon and found a spritely little thing be-bopping around the room. She was very cute- already a very small calf having come early and out of a first-calver and we only had a large Holstein calf blanket available.  I think it made her even cuter – she was swimming in that thing! Because of her spunk, I named her “Towanda” from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. I hope for a similar outcome today, but am not optimistic. Maybe I’ve become a little jaded as I’ve gotten older. Maybe I’m more realistic – this isn’t exactly the same situation, and it seems the calf this time is struggling a bit more as we think she may have aspirated during calving. Maybe I’m just feeling depressed because it just keeps snowing. Or maybe I’ll be wrong and she’ll make it.

Later that night:

Turns out I was right. Unfortunately the calf didn’t make it. When I went back down to check on her, she had gone further downhill, not even able to pick up her head. It is an indescribable feeling, holding a dying calf in your lap. You feel sad, hopeless, and maybe a little angry that there wasn’t anything else you could do to save her. It certainly makes you want to work harder and smarter for the sake of all the rest of the animals who did make it and are in your care. It reminds me of a line from that Paul Harvey speech made famous by a 2013 Super Bowl commercial:

God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.'”

And while this doesn’t happen often, it happens on farms regardless of the label put on the package its product sells in. Again it leaves you wondering if it is all worth it. Then you look around at all the faces watching you as you walk back through the barn to get ready to feed or clean or milk or for one last check before you leave for the night and you realize it is.

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