originally posted on Honey Rock Dawn

A shower. A mug of strong tea. I could have spent twenty minutes in the shower but a problem with my water heater means I only have enough hot water for the basics. Long enough for the acute stress of the day to wash away with the sticky calf shit and milk slobber.

On Tuesday afternoon, a darling calf was born. The mother was attentive, the calf was up and nursing, all seemed as fine as could be.  The weather has been amazing and all the snow had melted, nights have been mild, conditions were good for new babies.  But late that night, a freakish blizzard blew in ~ when I woke the next morning and could hardly open my door against the drifts, my first thought was for this calf, as the snow was piled taller than a calf in repose.

Mike and I were in the pasture before fully waking up and found the newborn calf buried in a snowdrift, only it’s head poking out.  Snow doesn’t bother a healthy cow or even a week-old calf ~ they have enough hair and fat to insulate and actually keep the snow from melting, but a calf just hours old is not hardy enough and the snow had soaked this calf and chilled her to the core.  Her hooves were like ice, the temperature inside her mouth was so cold.  Mike carried her to my house before dashing off to work.

Every year, I have at least one calf in my house for a spell.  Though the circumstances are always born of stress, it’s one of my favorite parts of calving.  With the calf placed directly in front of my woodstove, I set to work drying it off and then wrap it in flannel shirts and sweaters and tuck the hooves, wrapped in a towel, under the woodstove to warm ~ the cats love to lounge under there so I know it doesn’t get too hot.  Then it’s just a matter of waiting while the calf warms all the way through, flipping it over so the other side is exposed to the heat, and offering small amounts of Daisy’s warm milk in a bottle.

All the other calves I’ve tended in this manner have been preemptive saves ~ calves that are born too close to dusk in terrible weather who would surely freeze to death overnight, or a twin the mother rejects who would surely die of starvation and neglect.  This was the first calf that had been truly compromised before arriving in my house.

Though she warmed up ~ her belly was warm, her hooves were warm, the inside of her mouth was warm ~ and she drank a bit of milk, by noon she had not improved.  She remained still and unmoving; she didn’t even hold her head up, one of the most natural acts for a healthy calf.  When I lifted her long little body, she couldn’t stand, her legs were like noodles and just crumpled beneath her as I gently lowered her.  Her breathing was rapid and shallow.  Too rapid.  I saw the very real possibility that she would expire before she was able to replenish herself.  That the very act of trying to survive was depleting what energy she had.  She needed oxygen.

I sat back and thought.  Do I make a phone call and ask to borrow oxygen?  The man I would call would think I was absolutely insane.  But he already thinks that, so, nothing lost, everything to gain.  I made the call and procured portable O2.

Mike drove up just as I was walking to my truck so he rode with me to pick up the oxygen and sat with the calf as I set up the regulator and connected a mask.  He saw the dire state she was in and then we both watched, transfixed, as the calf started coming to life before our very eyes.  I held the non-rebreather mask over her little nose and she seemed to drink in the oxygen ~ her eyes opened and stayed open and her breathing began to slow and deepen until it was just half the rate it had been (and the rate it should be).  She started moving her legs.  If I pulled the mask away she would lift her head to follow it.  Amazing!

After fifteen minutes, she was trying to stand up on her own.  The oxygen had done good work.  We lifted her to her feet and she stood, wobbly but strong, and took a few steps.  It was time to take her to her mother for another boost of life force ~ mother’s milk.

Earlier, Mike had separated this calf’s mother from the main herd and put her in Daisy’s milking barn, a small, secluded space, dry and protected from the elements.  We brought the calf in to her and she immediately went to her calf and the calf immediately latched onto a teat, clumsily drinking as the mother stood still and patient.  When the udder was empty, the calf curled up in the straw we had spread out and, when I peeked in on them an hour later, mama was laying beside her calf.

We left them in Daisy’s milking barn for the night ~ it was better for them both to be together, rather than having the calf spend the night in my house, but I ran down to check on the calf every three hours through the night to make sure she was still warm and well and would have brought her home with me at the first sign of chill.  When I popped my head around the corner of the barn at 6am, the calf was standing and nursing, which is about the most perfect sign of recovery one can have.

nicu O2


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