When Things Go Wrong

Marabelle awaits treatment at the vet clinic.

Having livestock is not for the faint of heart. Inevitably, there will be casualties, problems, and illnesses. It’s always disappointing and frustrating when this happens, and, in the worst cases, it can also be heartbreaking.

Last year, we had our first calf die. The birthing process can be precarious, at times, for any mammal. I don’t know of a single cattle rancher that hasn’t experienced problems and losses when it comes to calving. We had been very fortunate in this area. (For example, we still have never had to pull a calf or had a set of twins.) However, last summer, I was greeted one morning by a dead calf lying right outside our yard. At the time, I wasn’t sure why it hadn’t lived. Sienna’s first calf, Marabelle, was due any day, so I had her close to the house to keep an eye on her. It would be Marabelle’s first calf. Sometime during the night or early morning hours, she had birthed the calf. The calf looked perfectly formed and healthy, but it was still in its embryonic sac. I learned later that it is extremely rare for the sac not to break during birth. Unfortunately, Marabelle hadn’t intervened like she should have by licking the sac off. The calf had suffocated. I was distraught over the thought and cried for the calf that would never be. I went ahead and purchased a Jersey bull calf to put on Marabelle that year to make use of her milk production.

Marabelle allows her adopted calf to nurse. This was last summer.

I wish I had better news about Marabelle’s second try at motherhood. Earlier this month, she lost another calf. I didn’t even realize Marabelle had given birth until I saw vultures out in the pasture. We have been watching for calves, as all our mamas are expecting. When I saw vultures, I just had a feeling that I was going to find Marabelle’s calf as their reason for the invasion. Its corpse was already a couple of days old. By that time, it was impossible to tell why it hadn’t lived. I assume it had the same problem as Marabelle’s first calf. 

I realized I should sell Marabelle. Two years of dead calves is not something to ignore. It is extremely frustrating for me though, because of the time I have invested in Marabelle. Not only does she have a naturally sweet disposition, which makes her perfect for becoming a milk cow, but I also trained her to lead and stand quietly in the stanchion to be milked. It takes time and effort to tame a cow, halter-break it, and then teach it to come to and stand in the stanchion. Now, it seems all for naught.

Just to add to my angst about Marabelle, a week after she calved, I saw that she had afterbirth hanging out of her backside. I knew that wasn’t normal. She acted like she wasn’t feeling well either. Those symptoms earned her an immediate trip to the vet. I was able to approach Marabelle out in the pasture, slip on her halter and lead rope, and walk her all the way to the barn to await the cattle trailer. It was a reminder of how disappointed I was to have to sell such a well-behaved cow.

The vet treated Marabelle for a uterine infection, the cause of which, he said, could be any number of things. Sadly, Marabelle will be headed to the auction after the mandatory 28-day waiting period. (I have to wait that long because of the antibiotics the vet gave her to treat the infection.)

Even though you know things can’t always go as planned when you raise livestock, it still hurts when they don’t.         

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