Semi View/More adventures in farm living: The calf in the bathtub

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

You don't have to live on a farm to enjoy one of the surest signs of spring -- baby calves.

Just driving by a farm on a freeway, highway or gravel road, one can almost always see a baby calf or two, tails straight in the air, ears perked up, running away as fast as they can after seeing a car or truck approach.

I love to see a baby calf first "getting its' wheels" as we call it when a calf learns to run, as opposed to the first few days of awkward walking. That sight is sure to put a smile on my face. I always feel it is a wonderful testament to God's greatness and the cycle of life.

However, sometimes getting that calf (or lamb, piglet, kid ((baby goat)) or foal) to that healthy state is much tougher than it looks.

I guarantee that many farmers and farmers' wives lost many hours of sleep this spring, wading and waiting through the intermittent days of rain and snow (and sometimes both at once.)

Unlike out in the wild where "survival of the fittest," is the rule, on the farm we don't let that happen. After all, the farmers I know take the health of all their animals seriously -- it's our job; they are in our care. Sometimes, like any birth, the babies don't come normally, and we need to be there to assist, or call the veterinarian if necessary.

There is also the problem that some of the first-time mommas, and even older cows, are not always mentally the "fittest," but we still want to make sure their babies survive.

So, when a heifer (a first-time cow mother) decides to have her calf on the edge of a pond dam, we want to be there. It may look like a good place to her, or it just may be the place she was when she realized the calf was on its way. Nonetheless, if we are there we can make sure that gravity or the baby's first uncertain steps don't land the helpless calf face down in a pond.

It was such an incident that made me realize how important farmers are to the animal's survival. We had been married just a few years when my husband came in very early one morning after an overnight rainstorm. A cow (not even a first time mom) had her baby on the edge of creek bed. Apparently the baby had tumbled down the hill while trying to take its first steps and landed in the water, with its head barely out of the water.

It was below 40 degrees, and the calf, while breathing, was barely alive. My husband came in to call the vet (that was before cell phones!) and the vet told him the calf probably had hypothermia and would need to be slowly warmed if it had any chance to live.

"Put him in the bathtub and slowly add warm water to raise his body's core temperature," he said.

Now, remember I was raised in the city and the muddiest animals I had ever seen in the bathtub was my little brother and I after playing in a warm spring rain -- our dog even stayed in the house or on the concrete. But here I was in the middle of a farm, where I had learned dirt -- and now, mud -- was our life. No concrete in sight.

So I quickly took down shower curtains, towels and any other thing I thought might be damaged in our one and only (and very tiny) bathroom.

And in came the calf. Let's just say it wasn't just mud he was covered in.

One look at the barely breathing animal with its long beautiful eyelashes and my "things" and the "mud" became an afterthought. I held the baby's head out of the water while my husband worked the faucet and we both splashed the warm water on the baby, rubbing its soft fur to increase circulation.

It wasn't the first time I had been close to a calf, because at least a few times a year we have to help cows deliver a baby. In other cases, we have to put the mother cow in a chute or small pen and try to either convince the cow or the calf that they "belong" together. Like I said, on the farm we don't let "survival of the fittest" decide who lives and who dies -- sometimes it just isn't love at first sight between mom and baby!

But this time, I was close up to a helpless calf, who little by little started to open his eyes and eventually squirm. He really was warming up. I took back all the things I said about the vet under my breath and was happy he had given us the advice.

After he really started to "wiggle" we took him out of the tub and laid him on a pile of old towels, blankets and rugs. I took out a blow dryer -- yes, my hair dryer -- and blew the warm air on him, still rubbing his soft fur as he looked up at me. By this time he was more alert and probably more than a little confused.

He was even more confused after our then 15-month old son woke up, delighted about the new "dog" in the bathroom. (Dog was the only word he could say at the time!)

So after being bathed in a tub, blown, rubbed dry and called a "dog" at least 200 times, "Miracle" was returned to his mother, now in a warm barn, but quite perturbed we had "taken her baby."

And even as I looked over the horrific mess in my bathroom, wondering if we'd ever be able to use the room again, a strange thought came to my mind. (At least some might think it strange.)

"This farming thing isn't so bad after all."

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  • Very nice story.

    -- Posted by SpeedwaySue on Thu, Jun 19, 2008, at 9:42 AM
  • SpeedwaySue,

    Thank you so much for your comment.


    -- Posted by Marcia Gorrell on Fri, Jun 20, 2008, at 3:21 PM
  • Ahh, but you didn't mention the fact that one of your sorority sisters was winning her first Grammy on the night you were covered in calf, well, you know .... And that some of your good friends were at said post-Grammy parties all decked out in their sparkling best.

    And just for a milli-second, you did wonder about your career choice!

    I've always loved this story....

    -- Posted by talea on Sat, Jun 28, 2008, at 9:38 PM
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