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4/11/2005

That's A First!

“That’s the first time I’ve heard that one!” My local veterinarian exclaimed. Seems like that’s the story of my life… If it hasn’t happened before, jest stick around. It’s bound ta happen on Gray’s Ranch!  
 
Sunday mornin’ I headed out ta check the heifers. Its calvin’ season and the first and second calf heifers are in a separate pasture where we can keep a closer eye on ‘em in case they need help. Just ‘cause we’re watchin’ ‘em doesn’t exactly mean we don’t have trouble an Sunday morn got troublesome in a hurry.  
 
A light rain was fallin’ as I called ‘em ta feed. I usually feed ‘em some protein supplement we call cubes. (My dad used ta call it cake) It didn’t take long to notice one was missin’. A quick glance toward the crick made my heart jump. I could see red hair layin’ on the bank at a distance.  
 
I nervously jumped in the pickup and blew down the hill toward the young cow. As I pulled near I realized just how slick the rain had made everything. Instead of coming to a stop I slid down over a small embankment finally coming to a slippery stop. Running to the cow I was stopped short by the predicament she was in.  
 
She was laying head down over the crick bank. Luckily, there was not water in the crick. She was on her side with her back feet sort of up in the air. Animals that get in that position often have a hard time getting to their feet, but she was in way more trouble than normal. Not only was her head down, she was under several fallen thorn trees! We have been cutting trees since last fall and these were some that we had not piled but left laying as we cut them. How she got under there I’ll never know!  
 
I checked her real quick to see if there was a possibility of getting the calf out. I’m sure my face went white in that steady rain as I felt for the calf’s feet and only found his tail. A calf normally delivers with front feet first followed by the nose, head, and shoulders. Sometimes ya find the back feet instead. That means the calf is delivering backwards. But when all ya find is the tail you’ve got real problems. That means the feet are down and have to be worked around inside cow until they are in a position to deliver first. Its not easy. I did it when I was younger but have learned to leave that kind of work for a professional.  
 
I’ve only started using a cell phone, and I was sure glad I had it this morning. I called the Vet and it being Sunday got a message to call another number. Instead, I called my son, Michael, but I got his answer machine. I turned to look at the mess that cow was in with the rain comin’ down and sort of panicked a little bit. I grabbed a chain saw out of the pickup toolbox and started cutting limbs. While I set the saw aside to move some of the branches the phone rang. It was Michael. He would call the Vet and head that way. 
 
I finally got the branches cleared away. I tried to make the cow get up but she was in such a position that she was helpless. I knew the ground was too slick to try to pull her out with the pickup, so I drove the ¾ mile to the house. Fired up a tractor and headed back out. Now, I’m not one of these modern farmer/ranchers with the big cab tractors. It’s a 720 John Deere diesel built in 1958. No cab. I’m out in the open in the rain rollin’ down the road with mud flyin’ over the fenders.  
 
In the pasture, I back up to the cow, but she is laying with her legs facing away from me. I was afraid of breaking something if I tied onto her hind legs in that position, so first, I had to get a hold of her legs and roll them up. Eventually, I was able to roll her on her back and completely over so that her legs were now facing the tractor. I put a rope around her back feet and slowly moved the tractor forward. She began to slide in the right direction but the rope snapped in two! I had a chain with me so I tied what was left of the rope to the chain and was able to finally get the cow on level ground. 
 
I was surprised that once I got the rope off of her feet she jumped up and walked away. I figured she would be too exhausted to do that. I took the tractor back home and returned in the pickup. Michael and the Vet both soon arrived. We walked her to the shed where we were able catch her in a stall out of the rain. The Vet went to work and in about twenty minutes the calf was in position to safely deliver with the help of a calf puller. These backward tail-first births usually result in the death of the calf, so I was prepared for that. The calf actually delivered very easily when the feet were properly presented. To our surprise the calf was not only backward, but upside down! Yes, he was dead, but the mother was alive. And considering the way things started out, that was definitely a plus!  
 
I could write a book on unusual happenings in cow country. This one as I mentally recalled all the past fiascoes was in the top 3 of my most worst calving events. I’d just as soon forget the other 2 right now.  
 
When I got home a warm bath felt extra good. I’ve always liked the cattle business, but it can sure take ya places ya never expected to see sometimes. I’d just as soon not get myself into those “first time” encounters, even if they do make good stories. 
So Long, 
The Cowboy 

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