Friday, June 28, 2013
I am certain every veterinarian in the world has on a regular basis wished they could read the patient's minds. I have certainly wished the same on many occasions i.e. where do you really hurt, how long has this been going on, what bad thing did you eat or drink that your owner doesn't know etc. But in this case I had just one question, "What in the _____ were you thinking cow"? The type of call was not unusual, a uterine prolapse on a cow that had just calved, but the timing was a little. It was the middle of the summer when most ranchers are long since finished calving. It was 10 pm and the rancher's adult son calls and says he has a problem. The problem was that the cow had prolapsed but she was in a summer pasture far from the yard or any kind of facilities to catch and restrain her. He didn't have a rope available but did have a tractor. Since the cow was laying down I told him to see if he could lower the front end loader bucket down so that it laid flat on top of the cow's back to prevent her from getting up while I ran into the clinic to collect my equipment. Well I arrived on location out in the middle of the prairie just as it was getting dark to what appeared to be a situation under perfect control. The cow was laying happily under the bucket of the tractor with a uterus splayed across the ground. I put the epidural in and began getting may equipment ready back at my rig. As I began walking back towards the cow the rancher said, "maybe I should lower the bucket it looks like she might have too much space their between her back". Even though cattle are very precocious at birth and generally skip the crawling step in development, this cow decided it was an opportune time to show us just how accomplished a crawler she was. In about 2 seconds flat she crawled out from under the bucket, stood up and walked off. Since we don't know how long it would take to lay back down the rancher headed back to the home place to grab a rope in case she didn't lay down again. Sure enough in the 15 minutes he was gone she just stood there. When he got back we discussed options and decided to try and rope her. I have never been a great roper and so offered to let him try first... Lets just say a swinging rope caused a fairly dramatic temperament change in this cow. She who had been standing quietly decided that every time a rope was swung near her she should spin on the spot and bolt off as fast as she could. This behaviour caused me severe angst as a bouncing and flopping uterus can very quickly tear internal arteries and be fatal for the cow. We quickly decided to change plans of attack as by this time Grandpa had arrived. Now the new plan was to follow the cow slowly in the tractor and drop the loop of the rope over her head from the bucket. For the next 20 minutes I watched as the tractor lights meandered slowly around the field. When the lights got to the corner of the pasture was I knew it was time for me to go and help. There was a large dug-out pond with built up banks around it in that corner. I could tell from the constant forward, back, and changing of directions of the tractor lights that our patient was using this dugout banks to evade the tractor. I arrived to find grandpa down off the tractor following the cow on foot trying to get her away from the pond to rope her. I guess the other cows in the field were interested to see what the excitement was as they also came running up as I did. It seemed like a simple ideas that grandpa would come from one side, I would come from the other and we would haze her off with the other cows back away from the pond. About that time is when I wanted to become a mind reader. Instead of turning with with other cows and walking away from the pond she paused for a second then turned away from the herd and plunged straight into the dugout. She walked in to about chest deep and stood there out of reach of our lariats and I thought she could stand there all day and we couldn't do anything about it. Fortunately she did't stand there all night. Unfortunately, her escape route was full steam ahead....off she went swimming across the pond. Grandpa yelled, "quick let's see if we can get around to the other side and rope her as she comes out". So here we are running around both sides of the pond trying to beat the swimming cow to the other side. Our exertions were a bit of a waste as she got the the other side where she could touch her feet again and just stood there. By this time grandpa was pretty fed up and roped her right where she stood. Now we thought we are finally getting somewhere. Boy were we wrong. She stood there for about 30 seconds and then rolled over on her side and stuck her head under the water. All three of us grabbed on to the rope and tried to pull her back upright again. For a moment we were successful and she righted herself. But then the rope was too tight around her neck and she began to have trouble breathing and down she went again. We went through several cycles of rolling, thrashing, then standing, releasing slack on the rope, and then her going back down again. We were slowly inching her over to the edge where I jumped in with my rubber boots to try and flip the loop of the rope over her nose in a make-shift halter. Super bad idea. I quickly realized that this mud was sticky and I was stuck in place inches from a thrashing head and legs. With effort I managed to unstick my boots and get out of harms way. Now staying on dry ground and with luck we worked her head over close enough to make the halter and finally really pull to get her out. But alas, we were to lose again. About this time she started doing her best impression of a whale. Despite our best efforts to stop her she began dunking her nostrils under water blowing like a fountain in the mall. I am sure it doesn't take too much imagination to figure out what happened next. Whether she died because she was bleeding internally or because it is difficult for cattle to get an appropriate amount of oxygen out of inhaled water I will never know. What I do know is no matter how long I work on animals there will always be days where I will shake my head and wonder, "what were they thinking"?