Saturday, July 3, 2010
We brought home our newest member of Journey School way back on June 3rd. It's seems paradoxically impossible to believe that it has been an entire month ago and at the same time, that she has not always been with us.
Our own little MaryLou was only a week old when Honey May was born at the small dairy next door. We'd spoken for the calf (if it would turn out to be a heifer calf) as soon as we knew the cow had been bred. We had been expecting a black calf and were quite excited at the idea of white, red, and black calves on our little farm. Our neighbor gave us a call early Saturday, May 29th -- a beautiful honey colored heifer calf was born that morning to her all black mama. After chores and coffee, we hurried over to meet our new baby. So soft, so sweet, so light colored!
Even earlier Sunday morning, we got another call from our neighbor - a call for help. Honey May's mom was down with Milk Fever. You may have never heard of milk fever, indeed we had not until exactly one week before when our sweet Gjynni was hit with the terrifying malady. I didn't blog about that. It shook me to my core for days afterward - honestly, I was nearly incoherent and still have difficulty finding words real enough to describe the experience.
Let me start slowly and I'll try not to lose my breath again. Milk fever especially effects dairy cows - within a day of calving, their bodies receive the signal "Need Milk!!" and they go into overdrive to produce milk for their baby. Sometimes, for complicated causes, their bodies demand more and more and more milk. Calcium is pulled from every source - blood, bone, organs - and the cow becomes rapidly, fatally chemically imbalanced.
We had been planting potatoes in our little inherited garden when I noticed Gjynni looking....... wrong. I mentioned my concern to everyone and asked that we all keep an eye on her. Within half an hour, we were leading her to a smaller pasture with more shade, offering kelp, salt, mineral block and a bucket of fresh water. Another 15 minutes later and I ran to the house to call our vet. He couldn't make it for an hour. We called our neighbors. By the grace of god, they came immediately bringing experience, knowledge, and calcium. At this time, I could have simply pushed over our gorgeous 1800 pound unflappable curious girl. If we didn't hold onto her halter, she just wandered in circles, becoming more and more unsteady and disoriented.
With increasing desperation, we offered everything in our toolbox of natural medicine - minerals, herbs, homeopathics and Reiki. It was actually in giving the Reiki that I began to lose my grounding. Gjynni simply felt less and less there. I have treated injury and disease under intense circumstances but never have I known that death was quietly waiting to step in the very next moment. And there was nothing I could do to stop it. There was no bleeding, no fever, no respiratory distress to be mitigated. She was simply dying and I couldn't stop it.
Our vet, however, could. He arrived within what I sincerely believe was minutes of losing Gjynni and immediately administered intravenous calcium. As quickly as she began walking away with death, she returned to us. Within about 45 minutes, she was standing solid if still not quite all better. It took a full day and a half before we let her go unobserved for more than a couple of hours. And believe me, we learned about Milk Fever and gathered all the tools we had no idea we needed just two days prior.
So when Linda called, we mobilized. Within 15 minutes, we had the cow propped upright, administered two tubes of oral calcium, had the liquid calcium warming in a bucket of water, and were loading the two syringes for subcutaneous injection. Our vet still had to come to the farm to administer calcium intravenously but death itself was never paged. The emotional difference in the two events is inconceivable.
I was reminded during that week of when we dehorned our bull calf Quincy. Honestly, if you believe you want and need to hone your first responder crisis skills, get a family cow. We have learned more, and learned more completely, about disease and injury by living closely with our animals than through any training or workshop. I think because these animals mean so much to us both practically and emotionally and yet are not valued in the same way by the rest of our culture (you can't call 911 for a cow), our level of stewardship simply must reach higher levels. I am proud of all that we have learned, proud of my amazing family, and drop-to-my-knees humbled and grateful for the resilience of our animal partners.
On a side note, Quincy grew up just fine. He's now the expectant father of not one but three calves next Spring and likely three more next Summer. While he probably won't be a long-term resident of Journey School, he has done his job beautifully and we are glad to have known him.
Posted by About Kids Place at 5:27 PM
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