Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Aaarrghhh! When will I ever learn!!!

Each time some new affliction hits one of our bovine family members, I realise how little I know about the health problems that can ail our dairy animals!

I have seen no less than sixteen calves being born here and not once have I had any problems with the calves.  But this time it was different,  maybe because the calf was not born in the stable, but  outside in the rough terrain adjoining our farm.  The first two days went off well enough and I did not notice anything amiss.  On the third day we noticed blood on the sacking on which the calf was sleeping. On closer examination I noticed the umbilical area looked swollen.  A couple of frantic phone calls to the doctor, the verdict was an infection of the umbilical cord. “Did you not cleanse it with Tincture of Iodine immediately after it was born?” thundered the vet. “Wha......t ? “ I wailed, I had never done it before, for any of the other calves.  Anyway now the solution was to cleanse the wound deep , dress it well and hope for a quick recovery.

I carried the calf into the house,  as,  however hard you may try, there always are a couple of flies lurking around in the cow shed and I did not want any maggots in the wound.

But alas I was too late. As I cleaned the wound, I noticed them. My first reaction was to burst into tears .... how could I have not seen this earlier. could I not have been more careful....
 But then I pulled myself together and braced myself to clean the wound.  If someone had asked me to clean a maggot infested wound 5 years back I would not have been able to do it. But when it is your own helpless 3 day old calf, you have got to push all your squeamishness and repulsion away and get down to the task.  The little one  - I had named her Kasturi, barely struggled as I held her down with my  knee and cleaned the wound and poured the tincture of iodine into it.    As the day progressed she seemed to weaken and grew more listless. Every three hours I was taking her back to her mother to be nuzzled and to let her drink some milk. She would immediately perk up a bit after that. But as evening progressed, even that did not seem to help her. At around 9 pm she even refused to suckle, her head hanging limply down. And when her mother nuzzled her, she just toppled over and fell.  Another frantic call to the vet.  “Ah well looks like she is too weak to suckle.  You could try feeding her with a bottle” he explained.   Now that put me into a slight quandary. With Vivek out of town on work, there was no one I could send across to buy a baby bottle. Besides I knew that the chemist shops would have closed by the time I could get there, and wasn’t even sure whether there was any all night chemist in the next town.  “Don’t try pouring milk down her throat”, the vet had warned.
Oh heavens! What was I to do!

Too weak to move, 

I decided to take a chance. With no fluids inside her the little calf would not pull through the night. I had kept the colstrum from the cow aside. I took about half an ounce in a tiny steel pail with a rim that would enable easy pouring out of the milk. I sat on the floor with my legs outstretched and took the calf’s head on my lap. With one finger inside the calf’s mouth I let a trickle of milk flow down my finger – just a few drops at a time. And then stroked the calf’s neck to ensure that she swallowed it right. Kept repeating it.  Sometimes the trickle of milk would flow out from the other side of the mouth. But I got quite a few spoonfuls through. I then let her rest for some time. After two hours I repeated the whole thing. Late into the night I kept vigil over the calf. All animals respond to human touch. So I kept stroking it, massaging the limp neck  and belly, rubbing her ears and whispering into her ears “You are going to be alright by morning”.  At around 3.00  am I gave her one last feed and decided to rest for sometime myself. You never know what new challenges the day will bring and a sleep-deprived state is not the best way to face them. So leaving a dim light on in the room, I finally slept, with my alarm set to 5.30 am.
I woke up with a start even before the alarm went off. I first warmed a little bit of the milk to room temperature and went to check on Kasturi. She did not resist when I fed her the trickle of milk. She definitely seemed better.  I could catch another half an hour of shut eye.
When I woke up again at 6.30, dawn  had broken and at the sound of my footsteps, Kasturi opened her eyes, and with a little effort lifted her head. she looked around with a puzzled look as if  saying “Why am I here in this strange place”.  I threw my arms around her and hugged her close. She made an effort and stood up! This was a miracle indeed. She had pulled through the night! I carried her to the cowshed where her mother greeted her with a loud bellow. I supported her as she weakly nuzzled around the udder and could barely hold back my tears of joy as she caught on and started suckling on her own! 
From then on it was a quick recovery.  I had to subject her to a painful cleaning and dressing of the wound three times a day, but not once did she cry out aloud. Her beautiful large eyes showed a total submission to what must have been a very torturous procedure. 

On the way to recovery!

Today Kasturi runs and plays around and shows no sign of what she has gone through. But we share a special bond and when I rub her head and hold it in my palms she has a special look for me in her soulful eyes. 
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