Friday, May 3, 2013

Til' The Cows Come Home

Growing up, I lived on a farm in which we milked cows and shipped cream.  During the non-winter months - which seemed to be longer back then - the cows would go to the pasture and come in for their milking in the morning and evening.  If they weren't seen, mom would step out on the doorstep and call "Come Boss!!" until they came-not for the "udder" enjoyment, but to relieve their bags, which were often busting at the seams.  We had about 20-25 cows milking, and most of them had a Jersey or Brown Swiss influence.  I remember Shorty - the cow with no tail, Crooked Face - a cow with a crooked face (I think she got kicked as a calf or something and grew up with a face only a mother could love), and there was a barrage of named cows, often named by who their owners were.
In my field of work, I always hear the phrase "Stupid Cow!"  I think the cows are as stupid as their owners are - and in that case there are few doosies out there.
 I remember the day when I discovered that cows have feelings, she was a Brown Swiss that had a new calf.  When you milk, you have to take the calf away after a day, so that you can get their fruits of their labour.  The calf was inside the barn, and I was outside, and this particular cow came to the door and started to bawl.  I watched closely and I could see tears coming from her eyes - yes, the cow was crying - and as a kid I cried with her.  Just recently, there was another incident, when it solidified in my mind that cows had feelings.  I had to do a BSE (where you take a part of the brain), but the cow was not yet dead.  The farmer had fed the rest of the small herd in another pasture, in which he always did, but this morning they were not hungry, and did not go off to feed.  I watched as few cows went up to the cow who was down and licked her face, or touched noses.  They were saying goodbye.  Stupid cows they are not.
In the fall, we had found Daisy the Jersey. I was sort of amused by the lady who had owned her - she had hugged Daisy and cried as we took the little cow away.  Man, she loved her cow.  Daisy loved her grain, and would call in the morning and evening for her ration, and would get milked.  And milk she did.  We started to have a milk route set up for all the cream and milk she had. Ice cream was a regular dessert, even a fellow coworker bought an ice cream maker to make ice cream from Daisy  She even donated to the United Church with jars of cream for a garage sale-a sure bet to get to heaven's pastures. We had originally bought her to put a calf or two on her, but she ended up hating calves - and had to tie her feet, or stand beside her as calves would drain her out.  I guess it added to the workload, but it was what had to be done.
Her love for the grain is what killed her - grain overload. We had seen that she may have gotten into the pelleted feed, but we didn't know how much, since there were a few other cows with her.  Hindsight it 20/20 - possibly I could have stomach tubed her with some medication to prevent what was going to eventually happen. Perhaps I should have done a rumenotomy - taking all the feed out of the rumen - but I thought -the pellets would just be mush, and would be difficult to determine just what to take out.
One morning, she wasn't at the barn bawling for her grain.  I found her at a watering hole in the field, just standing there.  The normal pail of milk that was given twice a day was down to a mere trickle.  Daisy wasn't feeling good, and knowing that, I gave her some pain medication - since laminitis (a condition which causes sore feet) can be a part of grain overload.  By that evening, she was staggering, and an IV was put in. The next morning she was down. I thought I could be a miracle worker and bring her back.  She would lie with her head crooked into her flank - not caring about the world around her.  Litres upon litres of fluids were put into her (up to 25 litres per day), loads of electrolytes, antibiotics, pain medication and stomach tubing with medicine.  We had even gone to a slaughter house to retrieve rumen fluid to transplant it into her rumen (a four hour round trip).  I thought things were getting better - her rumen had started to move again, and she was looking slightly brighter - even taking a few mouthfuls of hay and drinking water.  But she still looked dopey - not quite there.  I then thought of something that I probably missed -poliomalacia.  With the good bacteria that died would be those that were needed to make thiamine.  A lack of thiamine would cause brain necrosis-even worse than caused by drinking too much on a Saturday night.  I had started early on with thiamine, but only a few treatments - in my mind it was the metabolic acidosis was killing her.  I had treated her like a dog with parvovirus who gets acidosis - with loads of fluids with electrolytes and sodium bicarbonate.  Now high doses of thiamine would be given as well.  Chris went to get a sling back in Alberta, since the next thing we would worry about would be the fact that she was lying down for five days. 
Daisy however, had enough.
And now I wonder, did I make her suffer?  Maybe I should have let her go earlier on as I would have suggested to other people if they had a cow in the same position.  Did I do all this just to see if it could be done, to be a hero?
But then I think... she wasn't groaning, or grinding her teeth in pain.  She wasn't thrashing.  She was just in a semi-comatose state. I had to try everything I could think of for her. In the end, she just went to sleep and died.
And it was then I understood the previous owner's feelings about Daisy - since I had them too.
Like the rancher with a heart, who did not want to do a BSE on his own down cow after retrieving a calf from inside her, Daisy too will keep her head.  The $75 is just not important.  Perhaps they should chop my head off since I was the mad cow that tried to play miracle maker.
Daisy will now be pushing up daisies...or maybe milk thistle.


  1. I am so sorry to read about your cow Daisy. It is clear that you are a person/veterinarian/rancher who truly cares. Keep on writing and caring...we will keep reading.