Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The Tiniest calf

Saraswati and Kalavati – born just 4 days apart are almost identical – rich brown coat and a white spot on their foreheads.  Sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart. 

Both of them had grown up into graceful young cows and seemed in pretty good health.  Kalavati had a bad bout of Foot and mouth infection and had spent several weeks in isolated quarantine.  But she had recovered her health well. 

Kalavati in isolated quarantine with all four feet bandaged.

It was Saraswati who started looking week and skinny for no apparent reason. 

  The vet was called and he prescribed some medicines and she slowly started regaining her health although she still looked thin.  Kalavati on the other hand had started looking plump and we guessed we would soon have a little calf  on the farm.  Probably Saraswati would be late in conceiving and calving due to her ill health we thought.

So it came as a complete shock when we went to the cowshed early morning and saw a teensy weensy calf lying next to Saraswati, who had a miserable dis-interested look around her and was not doing the usual nosing–nudging-cleaning routine that all cows do to their new born calves.  It is nature’s way of ensuring that the new born calf’s body temperature is maintained, the blood circulation is improved and the young calf gets perky and tries to stand up within an hour or two of its birth.  But none of that was being played out here.  Was the calf even alive?  Yes there was life in the  tiny cold limp body.  We rubbed it vigorously with gunny sacking , tried to get Saraswati to nuzzle it, but she seemed caught up in her own misery.   The usual trick of sprinkling wheat bran and maize powder onto the calf which gets the mother to lick it vigorously failed .  We tried milking her to get some precious colostrum  into the tiny calf, but her udders were dry.  We had a premie on our hands – a premature birth – Natures cycle of the full gestation which ensures an abundance of rich colostrum to protect the new born from all the vicious infections of the outside world had been cut short and the baby would have to struggle to survive now.  I held the tiny darling on my lap and rubbed its cold feet and bundled it up in layers of cloth and yet it shivered. 

I got a bottle of warm milk and tried to get the calf to drink.   Slow erratic gulps but slowly the shivering stopped.  

The vet arrived to check on Saraswati.  He confirmed that it was indeed a prematurely born calf and the chances of survival would be very slim.  The mother would need a lot of attention and some tonics and extra calcium was prescribed for her. We were to feed the calf every two hours and keep it as warm and dry as possible.  We carried the calf into the house.  The worst of the rains were lashing the whole of Karnataka at this time and the stormy damp weather was not a nice time for the little calf.

So tiny!

Her tail - smaller than our cat's tail!

Soudamini I named her. A big name for a little calf.  A musical sounding name.  But Soudamini means lightening – and indeed she came and went like a flash of lightening.  Illuminating our home for a brief period of 13 days during which her health and our hopes see-sawed.  One day she would be perky and running all over the place following me all over the house and the next day she would be lying listless, needing to be coaxed up to even drink the warm milk that she had gulped down in the previous feed.  A rash on the skin that erupted and spread all over, a runny nose that made her breathing sound laboured, the chills, the terrible stormy weather and the never ending rain and the consequent dampness all took its toll and on the 13th day I knew she had given up the battle.  It is heartbreaking to watch an animal die and specially one who had a promise of a whole life ahead, but   that is the way it is.  When I tried to coax her to drink some warm milk, she let out a terrible bleat – the first and last sound that she ever made.  I knew that I had to let her go.  We sat with her until she slipped into the other world – a world where the meadows are always sunny.

Soudamini – you will be remembered with love.

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