Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Plucky British White Bull Calf - Lucky Dan Learns to Walk

British White First Calf Heifer, J.West's Vanity Fair,  with 'Lucky Dan'
 This winter brought an unusual experience to our British White cow herd.  Early in the morning on January 27th, we found one of my heifers exhausted with trying to calve, clearly worn out and in distress.  My first concern was for her, she was that tuckered out.  She was laying on her left side just kind of splayed out and her energies clearly spent, eyes just buggy and staring.  A quick exam told me the calf was tilted half again sideways in the birth canal and she had tried all she could try to have that boy.

Her name is J.West's Vanity Fair -- she was just that pretty when she was born. Vy, as we call her, is an El Presidente daughter that had a birth weight of 51 lbs and has matured in to a Frame 2 cow.  (Vy is pictured at a few weeks old below.)  I had been quite anxious about her first calving experience, and fortunately had pulled her in to the main corral where she could be easily helped if needed.  Anyway, a brand new set of soft nylon obstetrical straps received their first use that morning.

J.West's Vanity Fair and her dam, Billie Jean, in November 2008
The calf appeared to be dead, the tongue extruded and swollen and cold, but I've seen that before in calves that do survive.  The right leg was still quite recessed, the left leg was up top with several inches showing and easily grasped.  It was slippery work to get the right leg in the strap working blind, but I managed after several frantic tries. 

With me working at her vulva to help ease the head on through, Mike pulled the calf with these new straps, and perhaps too hard, but I was quite insistent that he pull the calf as quickly as possible as Vy was just not breathing well at all, way too quiet.  We still made sure the angles were right for the pull as best we could considering the odd position of the calf.  In hindsight, it just wasn't a real difficult pull, as it was accomplished within minutes, but again, perhaps too fast and/or hard -- isn't hindsight 20/20!

The newborn bull calf was actually DOA upon birth, quite lifeless in my arms. But, I had read several months before about the oxygen deprivation a calf endures in a hard pull. Even when they are born alive, they can die within minutes if you do not give them oxygen as they are quite stressed by the whole experience. So, this plucky little bull calf, seemingly quite dead in my arms in to which he was born -- received my own immediate oxygen via careful, yet forceful, mouth to mouth and mouth to nostrils breathing on my part.  I didn't actually put my mouth on his mouth or nostrils, just got as close as I dared, which was pretty close.

A "Calf-Saver" purchased from
Mike ran back to the house for a gizmo called a 'Calf Saver', pictured left.  It has a tube you pass down their throat, and is intended to keep the human out of direct contact with the calf while trying to revive them.   Before he made it back I was rewarded within just a couple of minutes of his little body jerking and clear signs of life.  I almost passed out from hyper-ventilation breathing my air in to him, but nothing could have stopped me continuing beyond pure passing out.  By the time the Calf Saver was there, the calf was breathing like a miracle to me and I was dizzy and gasping and laughing and happy like you can't imagine, it was a truly memorable experience.

This Calf Saver appears to have been made for a really big calf, or I was just too hesitant to really push it firmly inside his mouth -- that's most likely the case.  Regardless, I used it as best I could as soon as Mike brought it, and we took turns continuing to give the calf oxygen via the Calf Saver until we were confident he was okay.  And yes, we tickled his nose along the way and I do believe that helped as well once he was initially revived.  We didn't hold him upside down or anything like that, as I'm of the opinion that isn't what a distressed calf needs at all.

Vy actually remained quite still throughout the pull, very minimal efforts at contractions, and still quiet afterwards as we worked on her calf, but she was alive and seemed more comfortable.  Once the calf was actually sitting up on its own and looking around his new world, made his first incredibly wonderful mewling sounds for his momma, Vy perked up and got straight away to her feet to check out her new boy.  As she had calved him in a small shed with a dirt floor, we moved the little bull out on to grassy ground several feet away, then left the pair for an hour or so to clean ourselves up and catch our own breath -- as I was now quite tuckered out!

We discovered when we went back out to check on things that Lucky Dan was just not able to stand up and suck.  His two front feet buckled at the ankle every time he tried, and he was definitely hungry and intent on standing, so it wasn't for lack of trying hard enough.  So I fed him colostrum throughout the day, he only took about a pint at most with each attempt.  The next morning we hoped to find him all better, not so, he still could not stand.  Long story short -- he simply could not stand and we had to figure out just what to do to help him, it was a totally new dilemma for us.  (Oh!  And within a week or so I settled on that name for this little guy, his registered name is J.West's Lucky Dan, his sire is Tom Sawyer, and his birth weight was 64 lbs, and I think he just may make a bull.)

Lucky Dan, Trying to Keep his Balance
In the first photo above, and the one to the right, you see Mike's second try at making braces for Lucky Dan's legs.  He used PVC pipe and duct tape, a particularly good grade of duct tape with lots of staying power.  The first try he put short braces on both legs just below the knee all the way down to the tip of the hoof.  That worked well on the right leg, but he still couldn't use his left leg, so Mike devised one long enough to stabilize the knee as well.  These photos were taken when he finally stood on his own (after being helped up) for the first time.

After about 10 days or so, Mike removed the tall brace and tried a short one again on that left leg, and he was able to not only stand up on both legs, but get his own self up on those legs.  With the tall brace, I had to stand him up regularly and encourage him to move around, I just didn't think it was healthy for him to sit all day.  It was quite a sight, he would try to do that baby calf hop of joy and sometimes hold steady on landing, sometimes fall right down, and in hind sight maybe I should have named him Captain Cook or something as he walked with a peg leg so long, but I kept thinking about Dan in Forrest Gump.

During all this I bottle fed him regularly, sometimes with his dam's milk, sometimes with milk replacer.  Although he could stand, he would easily stumble and fall down if he got in too big a hurry, or Vy irritatingly bumped him, so there was no way he could manage nursing.  It was beginning to get really cold here in February, so we moved them to a pen right by the house.  That made it easier for me to check on him regularly, but no way was I going to be able to daily get her back to the chute to milk.   So I gathered up my courage and attempted to milk her in the pen -- with no halter, no rope, nothing. 

After lots of stops and starts and kicks and charges, I realized I needed a very tasty distraction for her.  Right in the barn I found my secret weapon, Peanut's (one of my horses) sweet feed.  It was like giving a kid ice cream, as of course I don't let my cows have any grain. 

J.West's Lucky Dan at 3 months of Age

I was actually able to milk her as long as she had her head in that bucket.  Towards the end of this experience, I would stand Lucky Dan up on one side of her and encourage him to learn to suck, and I would quickly milk her from the other side.  Those were actually the most calm milking moments, Vy seemed to like it better that way, I know I sure did.  Finally the day came when I went out to give a bottle to Lucky Dan and he just didn't want it anymore, he had learned to suck and already had his belly full.

We periodically removed his braces to see how he was progressing throughout these weeks.  His right leg healed the fastest and we were able to remove it first, then it took about a week for the left leg to finally be strong enough for him to stand fully on his own -- and that was a happy day indeed.  Lucky Dan is now just over 3 months old, and is pictured above in early May.

Note:  We were fairly confident that Lucky Dan's leg problems were strictly from the pull, not a nutritional deficiency as apparently is the case with this type of issue as well.  Given his odd position in the womb, it was the left leg that received the brunt of the pulling, and it was the left leg that was more damaged and took the longest to heal.