Patty’s Second Birth

Our cow Patty gave birth on Monday. Our day started at 2:30am and ended at 8:30pm. The birth did not go well. There was no vet available but it was likely too late anyway. We had to intervene in the birth. Patty was in labor for over three hours which is too long for a cow. The vet worker at Kamloops Large Animal Veterinary Clinic gave Shaen a five minute lecture on how to pull a calf.

We tied Patty up and tried to hold her as still as we could. I held Patty’s tail up, which helps control the cow, and Elizabeth tried to calm her with ear scratching and soft talking. Shaen prepared an 8 foot long rope with two quick splices and slip knots on each end. Shaen entered Patty’s birth canal with the end of the rope and tightened the slip knot around one of the front hooves of the calf. The second slip knot was much harder to do. It took a number of tries. I was surprised that Patty didn’t kick my knee out from under me as I held her tail. After the second hoof was tied off, both Shaen and I grabbed hold of the rope and pulled the calf out during contractions. It was heavy work. I got down in the manure and gave artificial respiration to the calf. We hung the calf upside down. Tons of fluid came out. We did artificial respiration again and tried massaging the heart. The calf was a perfectly formed heifer stillbirth. She was a beautiful, totally black Jersey Dexter cross.

We intervened too late. If we had been more experienced, we would have known to intervene sooner. The woman who takes care of our cow asked us to get a calf for Patty. Some cows will adopt other calves, most will not. We were pretty sure Patty would being very maternal. I phoned around to about ten places and found twins. The male and female are a Shorthorn Brown Swiss cross. Male and female twins makes the female a freemartin with a 90% chance of being sterile. I got the pair for almost nothing at $20. A normal calf would be $150-200. The breeds I’m looking for could not be found for sale anywhere. Dairy cows are almost impossible to find now. Government regulation has almost completely eliminated all small family dairies.

We drove to Salmon Arm and picked up the twins from Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm. We introduced the calves to Patty. The two calves ran around the yard leaping and jumping for joy. It was the first time the calves had been outside in their lives. Patty was very interested in the calves especially the little female. We tied up Patty and tried to milk her down because her udder was tight and hard with milk. A calf would not be able to latch on. Her udder is about three times the size of last year when she had her first calf.

The calves did not know how to suckle. They had been bottle fed from birth. For the twins, food comes from humans not cows. Shaen and I would start the milk flowing, then try to get the calf to suckle on Patty’s teat. We had to do this over and over. The little female caught on quickly but the male seemed to have trouble assuming the correct feeding position and his tongue action was ineffective. In the correct feeding position the calf has a bent neck which causes the milk to be directed into the esophageal groove which goes directly into the fourth stomach of the calf. We got them both fed and left for the night.

In the morning the male was on his side and cold to the touch. He was almost too weak to feed. Shaen and Elizabeth got what they could into him and covered him with blankets. The little female was fine. Patty seems to have totally accepted her.

I called the farmer and said the male wasn’t doing very well and asked if he had any problems. I found out he had been on antibiotics for scour but had been near the end of the course. I went down to the Kamloops Large Animal Veterinary Clinic to get antibiotics and the staff were incredibly helpful. The antibiotics are injected so the drug will not negatively affect the calf’s gut. I was given detailed instruction on how to save the calf. I was told to cover up the calf and use a hot water bottle to increase his temperature. They gave me some electrolyte mix to help with dehydration.

Elizabeth and I heated up water for the electrolyte mixture and hot water bottle. We got the bottle under the calf’s core area and fed the calf the mixture. We tried to feed the calf a small amount of fresh green grass which he ate with relish. After we made the calf as comfortable as possible, I gave the calf an intramuscular injection. This was the first time I have ever given an injection. Elizabeth said to inject in the neck area towards the body. The calf decided if we were going to stick things into him, he was going to get up. Elizabeth was very happy to see him get up because this would improve his circulation. He stood unsteadily for a few minutes. Elizabeth told me to rub him from the front of his body to his back end. She told me mother cows lick their calves in this way to get the calf to pass stool. After a few minutes of massage the calf passed a small amount of stool. We helped the calf down and placed the hot water bottle under the calf’s core and covered the calf with warm blankets.

By the evening visit the calf was looking a lot better. He had a really good feed with Shaen assisting him. He still doesn’t have a very good position to feed and his tongue doesn’t seem to know what to do. He walked around with a little help and touched noses with the Dexter bull in the adjacent pen. Patty still seems a bit wary of him. Patty follows and licks the little female, a good sign of acceptance.

We have five days of injections to do. The vet worker warned us the calf may die if he did not get enough colostrum in the first 24 hours after birth. The calves were four days old when I got them so I have no idea if he got enough colostrum. If he didn’t get enough colostrum, after the course of antibiotics is stopped, he will pick up an infection and die.

We have been enjoying our first raw milk of the season. Patty is easily producing 8L a day plus feeding the twins.

When the calf is born, the rumen is small and the fourth stomach is by far the largest of the compartments. Thus, digestion in the young calf is more like that of a simple-stomached animal than that of a ruminant. The milk which the calf normally consumes by-passes the first two compartments by way of the esophageal groove and goes almost directly to the fourth stomach in which the rennin and other compounds for the digestion of milk are produced. If the calf gulps too rapidly, or gorges itself, the milk may go into the rumen where it is not digested properly and may cause upsets of the calf’s digestive system. As the calf nibbles at hay, small amounts of material get into the rumen. When certain bacteria become established, the rumen develops and the calf gradually becomes a full-fledged ruminant.
Dairy Cattle Science by M. E. Ensminger

Updated May 4, 2010: By Thursday last week the male calf had recovered from his scour. Patty has totally accepted both calves. Unfortunately, the little female came down with scour on Friday. We started electrolyte solution and antibiotics to deal with secondary infection, but we never stopped all her milk consumption. The female calf has not improved over the weekend. Her scour is worse. She has fluid bowel movements that are white with a slight greenish tinge. She is developing a hemorrhoid from all the straining. Shaen and I have been feeling ambivalent about the antibiotic treatment and decided to use Newman Turner’s method of curing scour. His method involves fasting the animal on water for 24 hours or until the scour stops. We are using electrolyte solution in place of plain water. When the scour stops, the calf is given short, controlled feeds of 3 minutes, four times a day to avoid over indulging. Newman Turner considers scour a condition of over consumption with bacterial infection as a totally secondary condition of over-eating.

8 thoughts on “Patty’s Second Birth

  1. Thanks for the detailed description of what you’ve been through. I could relate to your story from my own experience at the farm in the past few years. Cows has special ways to teach us about life, and calving is certainly one of those profound moments. Hope all goes well for Patty and the calves.

  2. I’d heard that cows would adopt calves if it was done correctly, but this is the first time I’ve heard such a detailed account of it. I wonder why Patty isn’t taking much to the male calf? Is is maybe because he can’t suckle very well? I hope the situation improves for him quickly.

    Donald from Online Veterinary Advice

  3. Over the last week Patty has accepted both calves. Elizabeth wondered if Patty could sense that the male calf was ill and just waiting to see if he would make it. In nature, the cow wouldn’t be able to help a calf very much if the calf couldn’t get up or feed. Maybe it’s just natural behavior.

  4. There is another philosophical question here. Should the herder acted more like the cow or more like a human with regards to treating animals? The cow would walk away – after eating her placenta – from the ill calf and let the wolves or coyotes have a feast. The human would intervene in many ways and try to save the calf. But does this intervention in the end improve the herd’s health? Is this intervention part of our “pact” with domesticated animals and in fact is why they are domesticated? Do I breed in “weakness” by intervening or strengthen the bond of interdependence? These are the kinds of thoughts going through my mind this week.

  5. Modern farming considers scour is “just the symptom of a disease that can be caused by many different bacteria and viruses.” Traditional farming considered scour to be a disorder of over consumption. Newman Turner in Cure Your Own Cattle, says scour is “generally a result of wrong feeding, usually too high a proportion of protein in the food, or too much milk. Bacteria are quite secondary and are again Nature’s means of dealing with a dietary abnormality. Prevent by controlling milk intake to 5 or 6 pounds of daily from foster mother.” He recommends at the first sign of scour to stop all food for 24 hours and dose with garlic. I would like to try these simple home remedies in the future. I got my copy from Acres USA, a very interesting magazine for people interested in pastured animals.

  6. The female calf is doing well after the 24 hour water fast. We have separated both calves from Patty at times during the day to stop unlimited feeding. These calves don’t seem to know when to stop feeding and gorge themselves. I do not know if this is because they were bottle fed twice a day from birth and never developed “natural” eating patterns or if there is some other reason.

  7. Pingback: Olivia's New Calf

  8. Pingback: Olivia and Cinnamon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *