Celebrating the miracle cow

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cow grazing

During calving season, we keep the first-time mothers close to the house so we can check them often. If there’s going to be a problem during labor and delivery, it usually happens to a first-time mother. Weather permitting, we let the rest of the herd have their babies out in the pasture, where the mothers can have a little more privacy.  My husband still rides a horse out and checks them morning and evening, because, though it is rare, even experienced mothers can have problems.

Two weeks ago, on one of the pasture checks, he came across an older cow who was lying awkwardly alone; nearby he found a stillborn calf. The calf was big, and strangely contorted, so his best guess was that the calf had been born breech and hadn’t survived the difficult labor. He went to check on the mother and discovered she was paralyzed, which can happen if a labor is unusually traumatic. She was alert though, and was calling to her calf. When he tried to help her up she simply stared into the middle distance. She wasn’t going anywhere.

In situations like this, getting the animal into a standing position is often the only remedy, and as any experienced cowhand or shepherd will tell you, the longer they are down, the less likely they are to ever get up. Knowing all this, my husband did everything he could to get this old gal standing again, but nothing was working.

Of course, she was also in the farthest corner of the farthest pasture,  and since she couldn’t move, he needed to haul her water and hay. His short-term solution was to fill a big bucket at the closest water tank half a mile away, but as there wasn’t any simple way to transport it across the rugged terrain without the water sloshing out, he started driving slowly with the driver’s side door ajar, holding the bucket out the door with one hand and steering with the other. His pant leg got very wet, and his arm got very tired, but after the second day he was sure there was no way this cow was going to improve, so he didn’t expect to do the job again.

Instead, she did improve. On the third day, she had started to drag herself around. Two more days passed, and twice a day he hauled that big bucket of water across the pasture, half hanging out the driver’s side door, and each time he found her just a little bit better. Not better enough that he actually thought she was going to recover, but better enough that he couldn’t bring himself to give up on her.

Day six, day seven, day eight were the same. And then on day nine he got her to stand. It was only for a moment before she tipped over and fell back down, but he was astonished. On the next day and the next she stood for longer intervals, and on the 12th day she took a step.

I happened to be with him on that day. He came back to the pickup, shaking his head. “I can’t believe it,” he said with awe. “This is a miracle.”

We watched her standing alone, testing her own strength as she worked to shift her weight and take two more tiny steps. Today, parents, kids and dogs all piled in the pickup to pack water and hay to the cow.

“If I’d known I was still going to be doing this after two weeks, I probably would have figured out a better way…” my husband said, as we bounced along, but he didn’t seem mad.

Everyone cheered as we pulled up and slowly, but steadily, our miracle cow walked over to greet us. The poor old gal looks rough, and there’s no reason to think she’s going to fully recover, but a miracle is a miracle, and I think a miracle in the middle of the story is worthy of as much rejoicing as a miracle at the end.

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