If worrying was an art, I would be Vincent Van Gogh.
Here on the Canadian Prairies, January can be a very cold time of year. When the temperatures drop, it just makes sense that we need to be a little more vigilant with our livestock to make sure they have the energy and the shelter that they need to stay warm and healthy. Horses, cattle, sheep, etc need to have a bit more food and shelter on these cold days.
This means that when the weather drops, we bundle up in as much clothing as we can find and head outside, working long hours to make sure everyone is doing well.
And so I head out to check the herd and feed them a little extra hay on this fine, bright, crisp morning. The temperature is -43C with the wind-chill.
As I approach the herd, I see something that no one wants to see – a dead cow!
So, I begin to ponder all of the tragedies that may have befallen this poor girl.
Did she fall in the night, and now couldn’t get up? I worry about that, because if only I had known I would have come out and helped her.
Did she have pneumonia or some other form of illness? Well, at first I know this can’t be true because I would have noticed something like that….but wait….my son fed the cows yesterday, and being 18 and distracted he may not have been as vigilant when looking over the cattle. In fact, he may not even have noticed. Or worse, he may have noticed and forgotten to mention anything to me.
Now I am a worried, angry mess.
To completely freak myself out, I begin to calculate what percentage of the herd this cow’s death represents. Let’s see….I have a little herd of 16 cows, so this is 1/16 of my herd that died this morning. So to compare, when we had our big herd of 700 cows, this would have been like losing 43.75 cows in one day!! Oh my god!! We have never had a death loss like this on our farm. Clearly I am a total failure….and this worries me.
Oh, wait. She picked up her head as I went by the pen with the tractor and a bale.
Great! I don’t have a dead cow, but she’s clearly a downed cow who is too sick to get up.
My Animal Health Technician brain kicks in and methodically tells me in her annoying clinical voice that this is probably impaction. Due to the fact that these cows are eating hay and licking snow for moisture, her gut has probably become impacted and we need to get her stomach contents moving. I’ve seen this before, and it can go downhill very quickly. My clinical AHT voice scolds me for allowing these cows to lick snow for moisture instead of having them on a nice warm watering bowl that I get to thaw and chop at all winter long….even though cattle have been licking snow for moisture for hundreds of thousands of years with few ill effects. Maybe it hasn’t been that long….I really have no idea of how long, but it’s been a long time.
As I pick up another bale and head toward the gate, I worry over the possible treatments that I can offer to this poor girl. I decide that the best immediate remedy is to administer a solution of warm water and mineral oil into her stomach to grease up the contents and get them moving south….or more appropriately, ‘West’ due to the direction she is laying.
In my mind, I find the tube that I will use and I take an inventory of our drug shelf and determine that we have a jug of mineral oil there. I worry and ponder which restraint methods will be best to keep her still while I convince her that oil down her throat is the best thing for her to do this morning. Surprisingly, cows don’t always agree with our methods when we are trying to help them.
Of course, she’s probably so sick that she won’t even put up a fight and I can just slip in there and take care of business.
Opening the gate, it’s like a miracle has happened.
The cow gets up and has a big stretch….not the actions of a sick cow.
She cocks her tail and moves her bowels ‘West’….not the actions of an impacted cow.
She shakes her head and walks toward the group chewing her cud….
She takes charge and moves the other cows away from the hay so that she can be a big pig and eat more than her share. Clearly a very healthy cow.
So, as the day went on and I periodically slipped outside to check and make sure she truly was fine I came to realize that I worry a bit too much….which of course worries me.
On my last check, I knew that she had been fine all along, and was just enjoying the fact that when it’s sunny and -43 with the wind-chill, it’s a good day to be a black cow laying in the sun.
As I looked around at the beautiful snow sparkling on such a bright and sun shining day, my eyes fell on our horses….
…I noticed that they had some serious snotsicles….which are like popsicles, but different.
And this worried me.
“Worry is interest paid on trouble before it is due.” – William R. Inge