OR: ANOTHER DAY DERAILED
My plan yesterday was to spend the morning building new sheep shelters and the afternoon working on neglected paperwork, including thank-you notes to all the people who have helped me over the last two months. The day’s list was carefully written and clamped to my clipboard.
However once again I might as well have tossed it out the window.
My cow Katika is due to calve in early July. Opie, her five-month-old foster calf, should have been weaned and dried off in early May. However, with my life hectic and friends covering my chores, I could not stage-manage the process from afar. Since my return, I’ve been working on it, letting him nurse only every other day, then every two days, and so on. However the flush of spring grass has made it a challenge, increasing Katika’s milk supply even as I’ve tried to cut it down.
Yesterday morning her udder was huge. I am very aware that she is now also “making bag” for her next calf, but I worried that with the pressure on her udder she might develop mastitis. I decided to let Opie nurse one last time.
I brought the cows in and locked Katika in her stanchion. I was feeding the pigs when I heard her kicking at the calf. I didn’t think anything of it. Katika always kicks at foster calves. They become adroit at ducking and weaving to avoid the hammer blows from her hooves.
Then Katika moo-ed to me, her entreating moo.
“No, you can’t have more grain,” I said good-naturedly, walking down the aisle to her. “I’m trying to dry you off —”
I stopped, aghast. Opie’s muzzle was drenched in bright red foam. For a moment I thought he had been kicked in the mouth. Then I saw the blood and milk pooled on the floor under Katika, and the blood running from her udder in steady stream.
I ducked to look underneath her. Her left front teat was hanging half-severed at the root.
Obviously when she kicked at him, Opie had jerked his head and his sharp incisors had sliced through her flesh like a razor.
Heart pounding, I dragged Opie away. I ran to the tack room for supplies. I poured hydrogen peroxide into the wound to clean it, then made a compress of a clean milking cloth and pressed it to the wound to try to stanch the bleeding. The cloth soaked red. I fished out my cell phone and dialed the vet. Of course it was a holiday.
However David called me back within minutes. Was the milk canal cut? I didn’t think so, but the teat appeared sliced almost in half. He couldn’t get to the farm for a couple of hours. I should keep her calm and quiet until then. Oh, really.
I worked like an automaton and refrained from bashing poor Opie, whose face, like my t-shirt, was covered with blood.
David arrived shortly after lunch. He labored an hour and a half on Katika. Just tying her so he could shoot her udder full of lidocaine took quite some time. Her stanchion was useless because the injury was on the far side, inaccessible next to the wall. Instead we tied her head up short to a 6×6 in her stall, then pushed her against the far wall of the calf pen and, using climbing ropes, lashed her in place.
Poor Katika was trussed up like Gulliver. Sadly, we had no camera.
Katika was very anxious and evacuated her bowels over and over. Eventually there was nothing left but a liquid gush. As I was holding her tail — a cow can’t kick if you hold her tail up — I was progressively coated with cow manure, from my hands and arms down to my boots sliding on the floor. David’s female friend held Katika’s head. Later she would advise me to simply throw away my bloody, manure-crusted clothes.
Finally the teat was numb. David was attempting to sew a black udder on a black cow in the deep darkness of a barn. The beam from his headlamp was weak. He is a bit older than I am. I mentioned that my own near-vision these days was terrible. David remarked casually, “Oh, I can’t see a thing.”
The weight of the dangling teat itself made closing the gaping wound difficult. The sutures pulled through the soft rubbery skin of the udder. David was crouching half underneath Katika, his sterile white-gloved hands swooping, needle in one hand and tweezers in the other. Finally he got a half dozen stitches in and said it was the best he could do. She could have used many more but he couldn’t get them to hold. With luck these six will bring the wound edges close enough together for healing.
As he snapped off his gloves and packed his truck, David said he thought Katika had a good chance of healing before she calves. The big dangers are swelling (and she’s due in five weeks!) and infection. Poor old girl.
The whole day, plus $225 for emergency veterinary care, was spent on a problem I hadn’t had at the start of the morning. Sigh. I guess that’s why they call them accidents.