Tuesday, February 28:
Some weeks are just busier than others.
We can find no website anywhere to address the question of whether a cow might be allergic to kelp. People may be allergic to kelp, and people may be allergic to cows, but no one seems to have wondered whether a cow may be allergic to kelp.
We are wondering.
Dried Icelandic kelp mixed with diatomaceous earth is a mineral supplement we provide our cattle, offering it free choice in a box attatched to the wall in the lounging stall. Thursday about three oclock we refilled that box.
Thursday night Isabel’s face was so swollen her eyes were almost shut, and her udder was too swollen to let the milk come down the teats. Her temperature was normal, her breathing slow but not rasping, and she was steady on her feet, but clearly she had encountered something her body was telling her to reject.
It is too early for stinging insects, and anyway, how many bees would have to sting her face to get it to swell to such proportions? There are no young nettles in the patch at the bottom of the field where in spring we will cut them for nettle soup; anyway, they mostly grow on the other side of the barbed wire. Speculation surged this way and that, but always it ended with the kelp.
Because she was just fine before we filled that box.
Whatever might be the cause, the cure would just be time. She wasn’t in respiratory distress, she didn’t seem to have a gastric trouble, she just couldn’t see, and couldn’t let down her milk. That should right itself in time, so we shut her in the barn and we expected her to be much better in the morning. Which she was.
And at noon she was down in the field and couldn’t get up again.
This is a long story.
Do you have time?
Picture a cow on a magic carpet made of a truck tarp, two logging chains, and three comealongs, being inched into the barn where we can throw a sling over one of the beams in the loft and winch her bony behind up off the ground. Picture getting a little careless loading the logging chains into the car – okay, we weren’t going far but those chains weigh about seventy-five pounds – and tapping the rear windshield with an iron hook, at which point the rear windshield shatters in to about six million pieces. Picture driving an hour through gale force winds and pelleted snow to fetch a hip lift – a clamp for cow backsides – from the vet, with trees crashing down on the road in front of us (this part is only a slight exaggeration).
Picture getting the cow in the lift and cranking her off the ground, only to have her hang there like a bag of bones and fermented grass, determined not to carry her own weight. Picture doing this more than once. Up at the house S-4 is dying on the sofa after a quadrilateral tooth extraction, while the D’s, ages ten and seven, watch with their fingers in their mouths. No one has eaten lunch, and pretty soon no one will have eaten dinner (that’s only a slight exaggeration too).
Abandoning her on a thick bed of straw with feed, hay, and water in easy reach, we return to the house, dispense narcotics to the dying son, eat potato soup, and seek counsel. Isabel is not about to, and has not recently, calved, making it very unlikely that she has milk fever, but the sovereign remedy for a cow down with milk fever – which Isabel almost certainly has not got – is an IV of calcium gluconate right in the jugular vein, and we happen to have a 500 mil bottle of calcium gluconate. We turn to the internet for a tutorial.
Did you ever run a jugular IV on a cow? You take a long horse needle and jab it straight into the turgid bulging vein which you are pinching to bring it up, and you know you’re in because blood goes squirting everywhere. You attach to it a long, flexible tube connected to your bottle of calcium and then you stand there for ten minutes trying to watch the little bubbles going into the air intake and make sure you don’t slay your cow by giving her intravenous calcium too fast.
It’s very empowering.
Then you go away thinking what a joke that all was, because it didn’t do any good last time she was down – oh, yes, she’s done this before – and you go to bed and dream all night of cows and magic carpets.
But in the morning the cow was up.
It’s insane, but randomness is one of the things that makes this job so fullfiling.