they shoot cows don’t they?

Not all of farming with animals is fun, sometimes it is tragic and very sad.

Recently we were called out to assess a poorly cow out in the field, all we knew was that she was lying down. This is known as a ‘downer’ cow. When we reached her we could see that she was in great pain and distress and immediately called on our many years of observation and experience to try to determine the cause of her troubles and if we should try to move her, or send for the vet.

In less than a minute we noted that she was in pain, and dehydrated – the latter possibly from being unable to get up to seek water. She was lying on her left side, and on close examination we could see that her right pelvic joint looked normal and the left one did not, in fact it looked very strange indeed, with only a very sharp and pointed piece of bone sticking up and there was nothing at all where the top of the femur should have been. We knew straightaway not to move her and summoned the vet, who as it happened was only half an hour away. Mobile phones make this so much easier and quicker. We also fetched her some water, which she drank, and we wafted the flies away from her eyes and stroked her to keep her calm as we waited for expert medical help.

The vet agreed that the pelvis looked horribly wrong and only under his strict instructions was she was moved by four men onto her right side in order for him to examine the pelvis internally. The diagnosis was that she had either a dislocated or broken pelvis and she was immediately and humanely destroyed.

The cow’s name was  Elderflower and she was six years old and due to calve next month. Tears pricked my eyes, but I had to appear resolute, that is the nature of farming, but sometimes the reality gets to one and it got to me that day, and I learned after we  got home that I was not the only one.

Slips, trips and broken hips is a health department campaign to prevent falls in the elderly, unfortunately there was nothing we could have done to help Elderflower. We tracked back through the grass trails she had made while trying to get up. We found whereabouts on the chalky  hill where she had slipped coming down a steeper part, caught her foot, tripped and gone down with this traumatic injury.

An injury like this in the field is a very rare occurrence, but a very sad one, we were pleased to be able to help her so quickly, and also that we knew what was wrong. The loss of her calf as well was hard to bear, but the vet assured us that in the womb the calf is unconscious, and it was too soon to try a caesarean, which actually would have provoked further suffering for the cow. There is an old saying in farming:  “the first loss is the least loss” and in this case it was true.


Filed under Country Life, food and farming, rural musings, Food, Life

5 responses to “they shoot cows don’t they?

  1. 😦
    A tough day. I called out a local farmer the other week, I’d noticed a cow sat on its haunches (like a dog sits), I thought it looked odd, when it was still there an hour or so latter I knew it was odd; fortunately they were able to get it back on its feet although it was lame they were confident it could be fixed.

  2. Yes, a sad event – but surely better than leaving her in pain, or intervening with treatment when really there is no hope of comfort?

  3. Such a sad tale. I had a huge row many years ago with a fellow student who was from a city and thought farmers didn’t form emotional attachments with their cows (because that’s the impression given by the media). He was wrong. Poor Elderflower.

  4. Thanks for your comments, yes it was/is tough.
    We do get attached to the breeding stock and know them by name but not the fatstock – the steers, and piglets. Lambs of course are in their hundreds but the rams we do know by name too. Not that they know their names!
    I guess it’s all about the proper order of things.. and Elderflower should have done a good few years more as a suckler cow.
    Actually I went passed the exact spot where she died at 5pm tonight and we found another cow with a medical problem – the vet is coming first thing tomorrow, but this time it was not an emergency.. more in due course.

  5. Working with animals is so hard when you also have to make a business out of them, you know you shouldn’t form attachments as it will only hurt when something happens but I have yet to meet any really good livestock folk who do not…

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