March 19, 2007

hell breaks loose, part 2

Saturday was another one of those days...

Dad and Jerry went to check the cows and asked me to bring out the hay rig after an hour or so. They were planning to sort some of the pairs out of the 'heavys' into other pastures. After checking cows they were going to come back out on the four-wheelers and wanted some hay on the ground to keep the cows from scattering. I waited around a bit longer than they asked me to and had a feeling I should maybe just wait for them to get back before heading out, but decided to just take my time out to the meadows. There was still no sign of them after I got out there, so I just idled down and waited. After a bit, some cows spooked at the far end of the meadow and I assumed I'd see the pickup any minute. Instead I saw two small figures that didn't look like cows - it was George and Jerry on foot. I drove over to them - they had found a cow who was breach (her calf was coming out backwards) and got stuck in the boggy meadow ground trying to get over to her. They figured it would be just as fast to walk back as to ride in the tractor, so I started feeding hay and they kept walking.

As I was loading another stack, they came back through - George on the bike (four-wheeler) and Jerry driving the tractor. I went back to the house and started some dinner. They went back and pulled out the pickup and started trailing the cow back. Once I heard them return, I went down to let them know I had dinner about ready. As I got down to the calving barn, I heard a hellofa ruckus. The cow they'd brought in was ramming and kicking the barn door and it was swinging out about a foot or so each time. The door was starting to come open, so I was heading over to shut it when Jerry came running around - he told me to stand back, then shut the door, and asked me to make sure it didn't slide open again.

So I stood outside, unable to see what was going on in the barn, and just listened to the crashing and cussing. The situation in the calving barn is terrible - if you need to help a cow with her labor, first you've got to get her immobilized so that she will remain still and can't hurt you in the process. This requires getting her into a 'headcatch', which squeezes along the sides of her neck, so that she can't move forward or back. The headcatch in the calving barn is real piece - I'm not even sure what all is wrong with it, but I know from the choice of adjectives used to describe it that it's far from ideal. The whole situtation in there is just ridiculous and it's practically a miracle if you can get anything accomplished without getting killed in the process.

I just kept listening for their voices, to make sure they were both still conscious. After one particularly loud crash, Dad's cussing went up a notch and I heard Jerry ask him if he thought it was broke. Apparently the cow had kicked the gate and Dad's leg had been hit by the gate in front and a board in back. The impact split the board in two and I could hear that he was in pain. At this point things were at a bit of a standstill, so they hollered out for me to go get the 'hotshot', as neither of them could leave or they'd lose all the progress they'd gained.

I ran and got the hotshot and went around to the back of the barn. Jerry was holding tension on a rope around her head and George was at the headcatch, ready to lock it down as soon as she stuck her head in. I went to the gate and gave her a few little shocks in the rear. She was about as stubborn as the two men trying to help her. We went on like this for a while, to no result. Then dad limped up to the house to look for something to knock her out. Unable to find the right drug, they decided to forget the headcatch and just rope her legs to immobilize her.

Her water had broken some hours before and she'd been thrashing around for so long now, that we assumed the calf was probably dead. After finally getting the cow down, they pulled (and surprisingly, she pushed) and got the calf out. Delivering a dead calf after several hours of stressful laboring and literally risking their lives was a bummer, to say the least.

As they got the cow up and out of the barn, I went in to get dinner ready. Shaping hamburger patties in the kitchen, I was struck by the connection between the raw meat in my hands the efforts we'd just made to save a cow and her calf. Though I knew the answer, I couldn't help asking myself 'Is THIS why we do this?'.

Later that afternoon, I went out to feed hay. Afternoon sun, a cool breeze, the first meadowlark song of Spring, geese and hawks overhead, majestic bare cottonwoods in the meadow with new baby calves playing and skipping around them, their mamas humming to them nearby. THIS is why we do this. The end product of this business may be steak and burgers, but for us, I think these babies are the accomplishment of our year. There is hardly anything more charming or gratifying than a pair - a cow and her calf - walking together, the new calf stumbling behind and running ahead, stopping for a bit of milk, and walking on side by side.

1 comment:

Lucretia said...

Good post.