Monday, March 13, 2017

It's those heart-stopping moments...

Gray hairs. I have more gray hairs today than I did yesterday.

As I mentioned before, it seems we've broken the back of winter and spring is slowly coming at last. Temperatures have been above freezing, and the snow is melting. In fact, it's melted off enough that I could finally dig out the walk-through gate in the corral.

Our elderly Jersey cow Matilda and her yearling calf Sean have spent a long boring winter in the corral. Matilda is bottom of the bovine pecking order and would never be able to compete at the feed boxes, so I wanted to make sure she had enough to eat by bringing her into the barn each night. I never meant for her to never get out, but when the deep snows came, there wasn't much choice but to keep her confined in the barn and corral (plus drifts blocked the gates). There's plenty of room, but I'm certain it was boring for her.

So when the snow melted, I looked forward to the chance to let her and Sean out. I did that yesterday.

It was a mistake. A big, BIG mistake.

Matilda and her calf seemed delighted to be out, able to stretch their legs. Feeling good about things (always a dangerous sign), I went into another part of the barn to rummage for what I needed to get some seeds planted indoors.

In a few minutes, I heard the moos and bellows of the rest of the herd raising a ruckus. I ran out to the corral in time to see the cattle chasing Matilda down into the woods, crashing through the underbrush. They weren't attacking her, they were merely in high spirits and wanted an excuse to kick up their heels and gamble through the muddy woods.

But poor Matilda, lowest of the low, didn't interpret their high spirits as, well, high spirits. She raced away in panic. They raced after her.

I grabbed a stick, opened the walk-through gate, and headed down to the woods. "What's up?" called Don from the shop window.

"They're chasing Matilda and I want to make sure she's okay," I replied.

She wasn't.

I saw the cows milling about in the woods, and a lump on the ground I at first thought was a log. But no, it was my beloved Matilda, stretched flat on the ground on a muddy wet spot. She'd slipped and fallen and couldn't (or wouldn't) get up.

There is no bigger heart-stopping moment than to see a cow flat on her side. It is NOT a healthy position.

I leaped over and brandished my stick to keep the other cows away, meanwhile screaming at the top of my lungs for Don to come help. But he had gone into the house and couldn't hear me from so far away. I couldn't tell if Matilda had broken any legs, but I was worried the excited herd would trample her if I left off guarding her. I stood there and screamed my head off, but no one heard me.

Finally, without any other choice, I scattered the herd and ran uphill, through the corral, through the barn, across the driveway, and into the house. "Matilda's down, I need help!" I shouted, then dashed back out through the barn, grabbing a rope as I went.

Within moments Don and Younger Daughter had thrown on boots and followed me. Matilda was still flat on the ground. With two other guards brandishing sticks, she was safe from being trampled, but no closer to getting on her feet. It was impossible to bring a vehicle into the woods in these muddy conditions -- it would get stuck instantly -- so our choices were simple: either get her up, or (gulp) shoot her dead.

I slipped a rope round her neck. Her face was pressed into muddy water, and she was stretched head-down on a downward slope -- a very difficult angle. Gently, then more firmly, I tugged at the rope. "Come on, baby, come on, get up ..."

It didn't work. Don and I tried to roll her onto her belly, but she's nearly a thousand pounds and we couldn't budge her. We coaxed and prodded and cajoled, to no avail. We stood, helpless, watching her gasp and tremble on the ground but unable to do anything to help her.

Finally Don had an excellent idea, and sent Younger Daughter up to the barn to fetch some chicken feed. If there's one thing Matilda loves, it's chicken feed (she sneaks some whenever she can, which is dangerous; chicken feed is NOT meant for cows). "But bring it in a bag, not a bucket," Don told her, since other cows would recognize a bucket.

Younger Daughter was back in a few minutes. I took a scoop of chicken feed and held it in front of Matilda's nostrils. They flared, but that was it. She remained on the ground, one eye and ear pressed to the mud. I was beginning to think a .45 to the head was the only alternative at this point.

I held the food to her nostrils a couple more times, then alternately tugged at the rope and tried to encourage her up.

At last -- miraculously! -- she rolled to her side and struggled to her feet, splashing us all head to foot with mud. We didn't care. She was on her feet, and no legs were broken. We cheered.

We let her stand there about five minutes to pull herself together. One ear, the one that was pressed to the ground, was bent downward, and she was caked with mud. Meanwhile we assessed what the easiest and least-blocked path would be back to the corral. Since she was facing downhill, we carefully walked downhill a bit before turning to the side, then back upward toward the barn. Don and Younger Daughter brandished sticks and kept the rest of the herd at bay.

We walked slowly. Matilda was very thankful to go through the gate into the corral. I slipped off the rope, we shooed Sean in behind her, and I fetched a bucket and gave her some of the coveted chicken feed. Then we left her alone to recuperate from her ordeal, and I went into the house to recuperate from MY ordeal.

I checked her every fifteen minutes or so. I coaxed her into the barn with a bit more chicken feed...

...but she didn't stay inside. She went back out, but after awhile started chewing her cud, a good sign. However she continued to tremble as the adrenaline finished coursing through her body. Her left ear still faced down -- can you "break" an ear? -- and I wondered if the cartilage was damaged. Over the next couple of hours, however, she was able to move it a bit, so maybe it was just "sprained."

As the mud dried, I took a brush and brushed her down. Her face and ear seemed very sensitive, so I didn't brush those parts; but she seemed grateful to have mud removed from her neck, sides, and legs.

Today she's fine. However we are keeping her in the corral until the mud dries out. We'll let her and Sean loose in the driveway when grass starts growing, so they can introduce fresh foods gradually to their systems, and slowly re-introduce her to the herd under more controlled conditions later on.

Gray hairs. Yep, got more.


  1. Yikes! I could hardly read this without becoming short of breath. The picture of beloved Matilda down nearly did me in so I can only imagine what it did to you. I have very fond memories of her coming to greet you after you were down with the flu for a week (where have you been!?!?) so I would hate to see anything bad happen to her. Glad she's recovering, and I hope you are too. You probably need to get over the shock as much as she does.

    God Bless,
    Janet in MA

  2. Whew.... I'm exhausted just from reading of your ordeal. Matilda is my favorite.
    Montana Guy

  3. So glad she got up!! My heart was pounding, and I was actually reaching for a hankie.

    I get so attached to my cats, and so sad when one is in distress. This of a 10-pound house cat. I can only imagine feeling the same feelings with a 1,000+ pound "baby."

    Nature's harsh and country life demands practicality. That doesn't stop me from cheering with gladness that it turned out OK this time.

    Good idea with that motivator!!

  4. Your photo of poor Matilda was eerily familiar. Our older, beloved Jersey, Lily, fell in our barnyard earlier this winter. Thankfully I was home from work that day and "happened" to glance out the front window and saw her down. She had slipped and fallen on the concrete and could not get up. I thought for sure we'd have to put her down. The side of her head and her one eye was swollen from banging it on the ground. My daughter and I could not get her up so I had to call my husband at work. He made it home in record time and we were able to pull her head back along her side and sit her up like a dog then she scrambled to her feet from there. We had the vet out to check her over but other than the swollen eye and a bad scrape on her hip, she was okay. She, too, trembled from head to toe. We piled old blankets onto her back. When she got back into her stall she laid down in the corner and looked for all the world like a little old lady with a shawl draped over her shoulders.

    Glad you got Matilda up and that she's okay! Never a dull moment, eh?

  5. Ok, I had tears and was over-joyed when I read the rest of your post...I don't do death very well these days since Bob went home to the Lord. And was so glad Matilda is ok....
    Love from NC
    Love from NC

  6. I have a few more gray hairs from reading this! My Jersey slipped once and it took a few hours to get her scary. Glad Matilda is up!!

  7. Something that cows share with most people is that they never see the big picture. I'm glad that Matilda is recuperating well.

  8. We got a pair of walkie talkies in case something were to happen to one of us while 10 acres away. The hard part is remembering to take them. Maybe some kind of a system where you take a gizmo and they can hear you in the house. Glad Matilda made it OK, she looks so sweet.

  9. Oh my!! So glad Matilda is recovering,and you as well, such a scary thing to have happened. The critters on our farm have given me a few gray hairs as well over the years. Hoping she will make a full recovery!
    Janae @ Creekside Farmstead

  10. I used to volunteer for a group that did horse rescue and learned the best trick from an old country vet. We went to an abandoned farm where some people had moved and left a horse in a stall. By the time it was noticed and we were called the horse was down in its stall and didn’t have the strength to get up. We tried everything to get her up and finally gave up and called the vet to euthanize her. He came out and took one look at the horse and went to his truck for a fire extinguisher. He proceeded to spray that horse with 3 short burst from behind and lo and behold that horse struggled to her feet. That vet smiled and said, “Works every time!” I’ve had to use it twice since then and if an animal has any fight left in them the fire extinguisher brings it out. Don’t spray their face, just their hind ends. It’s worth a shot before resorting to euthanasia.
    I’m so glad Matilda is okay.

  11. Oh my Gosh!, I was in tears reading this. Hope she's ok internally.

  12. If their legs aren't locked up, fold them as if they were lying down properly and roll them upright so they can breathe and calm down; panic will make them shockey and kill'em dead. If you can get a tractor there, hip clamps are life savers and an excellent investment.

  13. Oh my gosh, this story had me scared, I am so glad you got her up, keep us posted on how she is doing, so glad Spring is on the way ~ Shannon, Spokane, WA

  14. oh my heavens, I am so glad all is well . I was worried for the little beastie. Sounds like you could use a stiff shot of something in a glass to drink.

  15. My heart stopped too when I saw Matilda on the ground like that.
    So happy she is still on her feet

  16. Been there, done that many times - usually with horses. SCARES the (whatever you want to add here) out of you. When it is over - even when it turns out good you are drained for the rest of the day (at least I am). Glad Matilda (and baby)are ok. Natokadn

  17. So glad that Matilda is okay. Just brought me to tears to hear what happened and see her laying on the ground helpless. The person who commented mentioned about folding her legs in if able and rolling her up, was right. Sometimes bales of straw help prop after attempting a roll up. Having straps and hip lifters are a good thing to have around with large livestock as Anonymous mentioned. Maybe a neighbor would have that equipment that would be willing to share for the moment if ever needed again, but surely hopefully not! It's not easy I know and sometimes people don't realize that this isn't a goat we're trying to move. Anyhow, I'm just thrilled to know Matilda is okay. She is part of this blog like your Miss Lydia and I've always enjoyed stories of them and the pictures and I know how you feel about her affectionately. These kind of things can take the breath out of the caretakers. How well I know.....

  18. Oh Patrice, I read this with my heart in my throat. So glad to hear dear Matilda is ok. Jenny

  19. you might talk to the vet or go online for advice on bullying.
    sounds dangerous to reintroduce her to the herd .

    could she have her own bit of pasture?

    really, she has pet status and doesn't belong with meat animals.

    this will only happen again otherwise.