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.