Yes, it’s true. For the first time in my life, I had a calf in my living room for a couple of hours last night.
Little Red Rose, two days old, was failing. She couldn’t hold up her head, let alone stand. Her breaths were short and shallow, and she shivered even with the heat lamp on her. Not good.
I sat in the whelping box in the basement with Rose and prayed, rubbing her constantly, trying to figure out what to do. I had made several calls to experienced cattle people, and they all said the same thing: Make sure she’s warm and dry and see if she’s hungry. If all else fails, call the vet.
I only allowed myself to leave two voicemails for my favorite vet, even though I felt like calling every three to four minutes for approximately two hours. (I hope he appreciates my self-control in this regard.) In between calls, I vigorously rubbed red fur, prayed and asked God to pretty please help this calf live.
I am new to calves, but I’ve been around animals most of my life. I understand that the weak die and the strong survive. I totally get that, and I can even appreciate it. But, I hate the dying part. I can deal with the dead, but the dying rips my heart out and stomps all over it. Suffering brings suffering, I guess. This little calf sure looked and sounded like she was suffering.
My oldest daughter suggested getting her upstairs where the wood stove would warm her up in a hurry. I was uncomfortable with the idea of she and I carrying a 70-lb. calf up the stairs. In her gentle way, my daughter persisted, verbally problem-solving with me. We decided that we could safely haul the calf up in a homemade sling of sorts. So, we stretched out a purple flannel flat sheet with penguins and snowflakes all over it under the sick baby, making sure to get a good grip on each side of the sheet. Upsy, daisy we went, giggling at the calf cradled in the sheet, belly-up with her wide eyes staring in surprise, all four hooves in the air and the tiniest little udder we’d ever encountered on display for all to see.
We laid her down in the living room on a pallet the kids had made with an old vinyl tablecloth and some worn-out blankets, then we began rubbing. My second daughter, Gracie, took on the lion’s share of this work. My son, Isaac, also helped out from time to time. I watched as Rose held up her head of her own accord. Improvement! Her breathing was still short and shallow, but she eventually stopped shivering and looked a little bit better.
The vet came and immediately went to work on Little Red Rose. She was still too weak to stand, so we had to help her up and hold her while he injected her with penicillin, Vitamin K, some type of Calcium and who-knows-what-else. The kids chuckled as he gave her a mouthful of Pepto Bismol and other unappetizing liquids and tried to force her to swallow them. By the end of her treatment, she was showing marked improvement, and I was once again optimistic. The vet dubbed her a Drama Queen and carried her back downstairs to her basement apartment. He told me that with such a rough start to her little life, Little Red Rose needed a little extra TLC. I’m glad he knew what she needed. I’m also glad that I am not a veterinarian. Long hours. Miserable temperatures. And dying. Lots of dying. I would not be a good vet.
Before he left, the vet told me to leave the calf alone until morning and go to bed. I must admit that, even though it came from an animal doctor, it was probably my most favorite prescription ever. I went to bed and ignored the worrying, asking God to take care of Little Red Rose and her soon-to-be-barn-mate, Baby Brisket.
I slept like a baby until early this morning, then got up to stoke the fire and start the coffee. I peeked down the stairs at Rose, and she was up and looking ready to eat. I went out to the barn to feed and water the chickens and the cows, and everyone looked happy and healthy. By lunchtime tomorrow, the temperature should be warm enough that Rose can be put in with the barn crew. Our good neighbor is coming over today to help make a cozy little pen for her in the barn where she can live like the heifer she is. That sounds like an excellent idea to me.