Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Our Christmas Miracle - A Thankful British White Heifer

Meet this gutsy little heifer who controlled our daily lives for several weeks, starting the week before Thanksgiving and continuing on through the New Year.  Her name is now Thankful, and she is grateful for our efforts I'm sure, but Holiday might be a good moniker for her as well, as she certainly took over our holiday season from Thanksgiving to the New Year!  Thankful hung her rear legs in a hay ring in surely the most awkward and puzzling way I could ever have imagined.  It was one of those sturdy green ones from Tractor Supply, certainly doesn't look like a potential death trap to yearlings . . . but strange things happen around here!

It was almost a full two days after her injury before she would eat or drink.  Cows have such endurance and tolerance for pain, even the yearlings, it's hard to say whether she wouldn't eat because she was in silent pain, or she was super ticked off at not being able to walk and she was purely sulled -- most likely a bit of both I'm sure.  My miracle cure to perk up Thankful's appetite was a big syringe of pure Louisiana cane syrup that first night, and she was eating finally by the end of the next day, and perhaps more importantly, she would finally drink.

The picture above is in the first week of her injury.  You can see one of two different splints we tried on her right rear leg . . . hard to say whether either attempt was helpful to her, but it did stop her from trying to crawl on a flipped backward ankle and perhaps creating more damage.  We weren't even clear on just what was wrong with either leg, but the right rear weakness seemed to be her hip at issue as she had full retraction in the leg.  It wasn't until about the 2nd week or so in to the injury that her hair started slipping on the left leg and I realized it was an oozing infectious mess underneath her skin to be sure.  The circulation was cut off to both legs trapped in the ring, her limbs were cold and hard when we found her that morning, and I'm guessing maybe it just like killed the skin?  Just don't know.  The vet didn't even notice it when he was here after Thanksgiving, otherwise I'd likely feel guilty for missing that damage so long.

My choice of bandages . . . duct tape, and lots of it, over big gauze pads, it worked pretty good if you wrapped the top and bottom several times.  I finally had to actually trim away a large section of her dead hairless hide . . . I suppose I was looking at raw muscle under there.  I had no idea how all that was going to play out and tried real hard not to let my imagination get away from me there.  And, no, I did not call the vet again.  When he saw her the first week he only gave her at best a 20% chance of a full functioning recovery . . . if he saw that mass of exposed red meat I was doubtful he'd leave me with that 20% of hope I was working with.

During that first week she started managing to move about the pasture in sort of a crawling-hop, and mostly she managed to move about in a downhill least-resistance direction.  So by the morning of Thanksgiving Day she had landed right up next to a big woodpile at the bottom of the slope and we knew we'd have to find a way to move her away from there. Given her bad luck the whole pile might just come tumbling down on her if she tried to maneuver herself around about the woodpile.

After a lot of arguments and ideas, we finally settled on using the hay tarp straps to cinch Thankful up and pick her up with the hay forks to move her to a safer place. Mike as always was as willing and determined to get the job done as ever when we have a man-sized dilemma with the cows.  Normally, I say something not very nice under my breath when I encounter one of his knots on something about the place that I have to deal with -- this time I was happy in knowing he would tie some really good knots in those tarp straps to hold her in for her tractor ride.

We were able to move Thankful about 100 feet towards the edge of this pasture, and likely that's as far as this method of moving a heifer is good for because of the body compression from the straps.  Mike also kept the tractor moving very slow to keep any stress on her over the bumps and hollows of the pasture to a minimum.  Thankful didn't seem bothered by her adventure, she never got agitated at all, and just seemed to think it was all part of this new strange chapter in her life.  You see her below just after we got her settled in along the pond fence with hay and water, and if you zoom in on this photo you'll see some creative hay string at work to repair the fence . . . life on a hay string  . . . it's not so bad!

Over the days that followed Thankful began to move mysteriously about during the night, and we'd find her greater and greater distances from where she'd been fed the night before. Curiously, she kept herself going around the perimeter of the pasture, following the fence line, until she'd reached all the way to the top end of it, saying hello! to all the traffic on US 69.  At this point she'd been travelling up hill for some days -- and then she started back down and around - she seemed to have a travelling plan and she wasn't going to let any grass grow under her feet if she could help it.  Did I mention she is a very gutsy little heifer? 

This went on for some weeks and Christmas arrived and we clearly weren't going to be going anywhere as Thankful still depended on us to bring her hay and water where ever she landed.  About a week before I'd managed to get her moved from the pasture she was injured in to the next one and on from there to a trap  area that would contain her to smaller digs.  It took some grit from both of us to do that, she could only move a short distance at a time, then she'd rest, then I'd prod her to get back up and I'd help support her weight on her right rear side as she hobbled a ways and then gave out and rested.  We eventually made it to our destination, and we both were well pooped out.

We spent Christmas here at home, which is always fine with me, but it turned out to be one of those you don't want to ever recall so you just block it out and go on down the road.  A runaway freight train rather than Santa Claus actually arrived on the Eve of Christmas here on this beautiful hill in the Pineywoods we call home, and seeing the arrival of the break of day on Christmas morning was a blessing.  But even more of a blessing was discovering that Thankful suddenly had found the use of her right rear leg.  I will always believe that it was the gift of a miracle for both of us, a sign of hope for the future.

Below you'll see a video of Thankful on New Year's Eve. It took some days for my brain to believe what what my eyes had been telling me since the day after Christmas, days to even say to Mr. Brown, my very special right hand man who helps me here, look at her, can't you see! she's better!  Like me, he had shaken his head and given up on her to make any more progress just a couple weeks before.  But also like me, once he really looked, he saw it too, and I knew it wasn't just me being hopeful or too positive, or any of that.  She was really better, much better!   

Here is a video of Thankful on New Year's Eve, and pardon the music, but I thought she deserved all that clapping . . .

The video below is of Thankful just 3 days before Christmas.  I took this video to send to my vet to show him she was NOT progressing and to see if he still was agreeable to taking her to his place and then harvesting her for beef . . . ouch.  Some of you may think that is really awful, but in fact it was to my mind the most humane way to deal with her if she wouldn't recover well enough to carry a calf.  I certainly wouldn't have wanted to take her to a sale barn or try to find someone to put a bullet in her head and then ask Mike to please honey bury her.

Thankful continues to get better and better.  She was running and cavorting with this cold weather today, and I saw her literally hop up and down with both rear legs in sync!  She shows every indication that she will make a full recovery.  My vet did add when he gave me that 20% of hope for her all those weeks ago . . . that it didn't perhaps apply to me as I lived things longer than anyone he new . . . a reference I'd imagine, didn't ask, to my old and beloved Fred, who came to me on a Christmas Eve twenty one years ago . . . we do miss him.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2013!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Bakewell's Optimal Cow in 1856 . . . sounds a lot like the British White cows in my pastures today!

Excerpt from:  The American Farmer, Vol. XIV, 1858, Pg. 57
J.West's S.S. Carter sired heifer calf from an El Presidente daughter 
We find the following in Rural New Yorker extracted from the London Quarterly Review for April 1856

". . . The cattle of ancient days were chiefly valued for dairy qualities or for draft, and were only fatted when they would milk or draw no longer. The greater number of breeds were large boned and ill shaped, greedy eaters and slow at ripening, while as very little winter food was raised except hay, the meat laid on in summer was lost or barely maintained in winter. Fresh meat for six months of the year was a luxury only enjoyed by the wealthiest. 

      First class farmers salted down an old cow in autumn, which with their flitches of bacon, supplied their families with meat until the spring.   Esquire Bedel Gunning, in his Memorials of Cambridge, relates that when Dr Makepeace Thackeray settled in Chester about the beginning of the present century, he presented one of his tenants with a bull calf of a superior breed. On his inquiry after it in the spring,the tenant replied, "Sir, he was a noble animal, we killed him at Christmas and have lived upon him ever since." 

      The improvement of the breeds of live stock is one of the events which distinguish the progress of English Agriculture during the last century. Prominent among those who labored to this end was Robert Bakewell of Dishley, the founder of the Leicester sheep. He also had his favorite long horn cattle and black cart horses, and though he failed in establishing these he taught others how to succeed.

     Surrounded by the titled of Europe, he talked upon his favorite subject, breeding, with earnest yet playful enthusiasm, there utterly indifferent to vulgar traditional prejudices, he enumerated those axioms which must be the cardinal rules of the improvers of live stock. He chose the animals of the form and temperament which showed signs of producing the most fat and muscle, declaring that in an ox all was useless that was not beef, that he sought by pairing the best specimens, to make the shoulders comparatively little, the hind quarters large, to produce a body truly circular, with as short legs as possible, upon the plain principle that the value lies in the barrel and not in the legs, and to secure a small head small neck and small bones.

        As few things escaped his acute eye he remarked that quick fattening depended much upon amiability of disposition, and he brought his bulls by gentleness to be as docile as dogs.

. . .  But fine boned animals were not in fashion when Bakewell commenced his career, and to the majority of people it seemed a step backwards to prefer well made dwarfs to uncouth giants.

 . . . In 1798 the Little Smithfield Club was established for exhibiting fat stock at Christmas time in competition for prizes, with a specification of the food on which each animal had been kept. This Society has rendered essential service by making known the best kind of food, and by educating graziers and butchers in a knowledge of the best form of animal. 

      In 1806, in defiance of Mr Coke's toast, "Small in size and great in value," a prize was given to the tallest ox. In 1856 a little ox of the Devon breed of an egg like shape, which is the modern beau ideal, gained the Smithfield gold medal in competition with gigantic Short Horns, and Herefords of Elephantine proportions.  In 1855 a large animal of Sir Harry Verney's was passed over without even the compliment of a commendation -- because he carried on his carcass too much offal and more threepenny than nine penny beef."

(Note: Reprint of J.West 2007 topic)