Help me help you!
This is probably one of my favorite stories to tell about doing large animal medicine in the field.
I do not remember the exact time of year this incidence occurred, but it was cold. This happened when it was just me and one employee. I recall that we were bundled up in many layers and insulated coveralls. They keep you warm but do not allow for quick and agile movements. It was likely late fall or winter as it was also calving season. Literally that was it. We rode around in the truck together and answered phone calls on the cell phone as they came in and went from call to call all day. We were called out to one of our client’s farms that at the far end of our practice out in Star. For those that do not know, Star is in Montgomery County and is on the border near Moore County, so it’s a ways out there.
We drive to the house where we met Mr. M (Eddie) and his dad, Senior Mr. M, who I will refer to as Mr. John, and followed them out to the field where we were asked to come out and take a look at a first calf heifer (this is a young cow that has only had 1 offspring) that recently calved. She was unable to get up. We drove out to her and found her sitting up sternal, not in distress, but simply not able to stand. I noticed she was positioned at the top of a steep drop off immediately to her right. This drop off was littered with trees, both big and small but had some open spaces as well…definitely not a clear path to the bottom. This is a large Charolais cow that is rather bulky and overweight. Upon seeing us drive up, she struggles to get up and get away from us but cannot. Like most cattle, they can be calm and docile around their owners, people they see regularly and get fed by, but any strangers or strange vehicles and they become quite skittish and agitated if vulnerable, which she now is as she cannot get away. The farmer attempted to calm her down, but only partially succeeded.
We were able to check her out and I determined that she likely had a case of milk fever. This is a condition of severely low blood calcium levels that drop soon after calving and cause an animal’s muscles not to work. It can be fatal as the heart is a muscle as well and mild fever can cause heart palpitations and death. Lactation can be a major of drain on calcium and this was a big girl, with a big udder and a lot of body fat, meaning she was not gearing up for lactation prior to calving. It hit her too hard, too fast, and her body could not keep up. I was able get a halter on her and begin to treat her. For the most part, this consists of giving her IV calcium and some other goodies that get her blood levels back up to where they should be. She was feisty as I would expect her to be, but my biggest concern was the steep ravine she was perched precariously near.
John was also bundled up much like we were in the cold weather and he stepped in to assist with settling the anxious bovine. He was concerned for her and tried to calm her down during the process; but she continued to struggle, and John was getting a little too close for my comfort. I cautioned him to be careful and maybe step back, but it was too late. She bumped up against him and he lost his balance. With the extra clothing and slow reaction time he ended up losing his footing, turned around backwards, sat down on her and fell over back wards where she proceeded to struggle more and flail Senior Mr. M head first down the hill with the heifer trailing behind him. John slid to a stop wedged at the base of a tree. He seemed to be stunned and not coherent. The large 1600lb Charolais cow managed to catch on a shallow stump up hill, mere feet from John’s boot soles. She is still tied with her halter and struggling and flailing.
I rushed to John along with my assistant and tried to help lift him up off the tree. My assistant and I got there first. The two of us together do not even come close to matching John’s size and weight. He was a big man. We were pushing upright for all we were worth, but he was barely budging. I called out to him, “John you have got to wake up. I need to get you off this tree before that heifer comes barreling down that hill at you and lands on top of you. Wake up!. I cannot lift you. Help Me Help You!” He then seemed to regain his faculties and started to sit up and with our help, he was sitting up and rolled to slide away from the tree, just mere seconds before the heifer dislodged herself from the shallow stump and landed exactly where John was laying.
At this time, Eddie had made it down to us and offered to help. The heifer was well and goodly stuck up against the tree. There was no way we were going to move her. We barely moved John. I had Eddie go get the truck and drive around to our location near the bottom of the hill. I tied the loose end of her halter to the hitch of his truck and drug her sideways off the tree. I finished treating her for milk fever and removed the halter. She was laying there somewhat dazed and calm. I gave a quick smack across the ribs and she jumped up to her feet and shot right back up the hill. All the way to the top. As I watched her race up that steep hill, I could only think that it was going to end badly, but she made it all the way to the top. She staggered to the hay feeder and started munching on hay. I looked over to John and then Eddie where I think we all shared a look of understanding about what almost just happened there in that field on that hill. Thankfully, it was not Mr. John’s time to go. It was a successful call but one that was filled with dramatic and terror filled moments.
Over the years, I was called out to that particular farm many times for various reasons. Most visits were not nearly as memorable as that day, but others were. I really enjoyed working with them and I am sad to say the Mr. John is no longer with us, but it was not THAT day.