Saturday, May 4:
This job includes a lot of things you just never thought you’d have to do.
There is, we will admit, something liberating and exciting about finding that you can enter actively into the processes of nature and participate in a meaningful way, but we didn’t quite imagine that that way would be reaching up the hind end of a cow. Yet God gave us opposing thumbs and the ability to image what we cannot see, so that when a cow can’t get a calf out on her own some human being with just a little knowledge, even though with none of the cow’s instinctive appropriateness of behavior, can, by a twist of the wrist, redirect activity into a more productive vein.
We wonder how many more such experiences the future has in store for us. We are being remade by the courses we are electing.
Three days have elapsed since Isabel miscarried a very dead seven-month fetus. We helped her to birth the dead baby, and carried it away to become new life on the forest floor via the activity of coyote, maggot and microbe. We milked her, washed her, and administered iodine pessaries and lutalyse injections to help her cleanse herself internally. We have waited these three days for her to pass the afterbirth, or placenta, of the dead, necrotic calf, and we continue to wait, because it just isn’t happening.
This has led us to do some research into bovine retained placentas. We find the condition to be much more common in dairy cows than in beef cows, or in humans, the mammal of whose birthing processes we have the most experience. A retained placenta in a human mother, in our limited experience, usually means quick and decisive action to rectify the situation. In cows it is within the range of normal that the cow may take three days to expel the calf’s afterbirth, and it can take a good deal longer without necessarily doing the cow any harm. This is a great relief to us.
We have been in contact with our wonderful vet throughout, and we share here with you the protocol she is giving us.
Milk the cow to encourage her uterus to contract. With a live calf on her this would not be necessary; his suckling would have the desired effect.
Alternate two intrauterine iodine boluses on days one, three, and five, with 5cc’s lutalyse (provided by our vet), intramuscular, on days two, four, and six.
Take her temperature daily; a cow has a fever, and consequently perhaps an infection, if her temperature goes much over one hundred three degrees. If you suspect an infection a course of penicillin may be indicated; one cc per hundred weight, or about twelve cc’s for an adult Jersey cow, is what it says on our bottle.
After three days if the placenta is still retained, a person may cleanse the exterior of the cow’s vulva, don a shoulder-length o.b. glove, and go in to see what is holding things up. Is there a second calf in there? Is the placenta detached from the uterine wall? There should be no real oomph used in this investigation; while it is fine to help pull out a detached placenta, one should never force the detachment. We just wrapped what we could around our hand and pulled gently, moving things but very little; then felt around again just to be sure what we were feeling, getting the impression as we did so that this placenta was still very firmly attached to the uterine wall.
So we trimmed off what part of the afterbirth was already external to the cow – this is primarily a matter of sanitation – sprayed her off with some iodine wound spray, and administered lutolyse and penicillin. Her temperature was a modest one hundred two point two. We scratched her behind the ears and called it a day. We’ll follow this protocol for another two days (the term until we run out of lutolyse) and then reassess.