Thursday, October 05, 2006

Another Case of Staggers

"I need you," he says in even tones in a register I recognize as trouble, so I put down my porridge and ask simply, "Wellies or will walking shoes do?"
"Wellies. The grass is wet."
I nod. We've been together long enough now that I know information will come as needed.
"We have a sterk with possible staggers. You have time to finish your porridge. David has gone for Jeffrey's cattle box."

Between bites I ask where and what we have to do. As we drive down the road to the distant field, Duncan, a grandson shows up and is recruited into the effort. I am relieved because an extra pair of hands is always welcome and Duncan has an easy way with cattle.

Before we get to the field I see an animal that I think is probably the one. She is apart from the herd, head down but not feeding. As we walk through the herd, it becomes more apparent. The herd moves more or less as one animal with many legs. She wants to join them but she cannot. Her will and her legs have stopped communicating with each other.

David, Duncan, Morris and I urge her to the fence and toward the waiting box at the end of the field. She struggles as hard as her wobbling, stiff legs allow. She no longer has an eye reflex. Only fear and instinct run through her frame, but these can be formidable adversaries. She is moved fairly easily with the four of us along the fence to the edge of the box on the trailer but she is willing to use up all her reserves to keep from getting on the trailer. She bursts through a fence and twists and turns and crashes along the short ramp into the box. Finally, she is in and a call is made to the vet to come quickly. It looks like staggers but not quite like it. At any rate something is seriously wrong. The vet comes quickly. With staggers and related illnesses, the time between life and death is very brief.

I stand just outside a circle of people around the vet and the sterk. I have no useful purpose but for some reason I want to stay. The vet asks how old the calf is and in that instant I look closely and realize that this is one of the 8 calves that I brought beet root and barley and hay to along with my hand reared calf. I recognize the same patch of curly hair in the middle of the forehead. The recognition reduces the objective distance I was struggling to maintain. I blurt out,

"She was born two months before my calf."

David smiles at the words and tries to conceal it by lowering his head. I have gone past the point of worrying about being thought sentimental, so I am only a bit embarrassed.

The vet takes blood samples to confirm a tentative diagnosis of a malady akin to staggers resulting from a combination of mineral and vitamin deficiencies. The red blood oozing from the vein stands out against the dun colored coat of the calf. The vet drips minerals into another vein and vitamins into the rump of the calf. I watch hopefully for signs of the immediate reconnection of the communication channels between muscle and brain--an irreverent twitching of the muscles, but there is no such dramatic effect. I see the calf blink and put great store on that fact, but when she fails to rise on her own, my heart sinks again.

The vet says to leave her quiet for awhile. The calf's breathing as she lies on the straw covered floor sounds labored but regular. She blinks again. One by one the circle around her drifts away. I stay behind, and as the others disappear around the corner I sing a few words from the song I used to sing to the calves as I fed them in some vain hope that she might remember and take some comfort in it.


At 11:03 PM, Blogger gracefulwild said...

Even without your experience with cows (well, and in part because of what you've shared), I have no doubt that the calf remembered, and understood. Not vain at all!

At 2:42 AM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

Tears again. These diseases seemingly strike without warning and randomly and unpredictably.

At 12:54 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Well, as my dear therapist always said, it is our intentions. We cannot control outcomes, but I do think she remembered something. She is better today. She is up and eating. I went to see her and she was enjoying a bit of barley (a particular favorite and had a fresh trunip by her side. I think she's gonna make it!


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