I love the animal husbandry part of ranching. As a kid I wanted to be a vet, and I can remember doctoring up all the little animals that I would find stranded; mice, and baby birds of all types. My most memorable Christmas gift was an incubator and I enjoyed hatching out chicken eggs and then gentling those too. One of my darkest animal memories is when I ordered sea horses from the back of a magazine and they didn't come with any directions and the food they sent with them just floated on the top and I slowly watched those poor little creatures die. Today, with the internet I could have gotten all the information I would have needed.
I use the internet a lot for my animal husbandry questions. I even recently blasted off a question and five bucks to get an online vet to help me out. Perse, (a bottle fed cow who is still a pet) brought her 2 month old calf into the corrals and kept it right by the cattle handling facilities. Something was wrong and she wanted us to help her. When the calf got up and moved its right front leg dragged uselessly along. We carefully walked the calf into the chute and examined the leg and neither one of us could find a break. I thought the elbow felt loose. Maybe. The calf's respirations weren't very elevated and it didn't even seem to be in pain. I couldn't figure it out, so I asked the online vet and she came back with nerve damage from some kind of injury and that we needed to go to a veterinarian and get some steroids to help bring down the inflammation in the nerve. Our local vet agreed and now, about 10 days later, the little fellow is back out with the herd using that front leg again. Albeit with a lot of 3 legged hops as well. We were warned that it could take months before it completely heals and it might not even completely heal. Knowing though, that the calf has no pain, really eases our minds.
|Perse and calf|
I haven't had to assist in any calving yet, as we try to pick bulls that sire smaller birthrate calves. So far, knock on wood, it seems to be working and even the smallest heifers have calved unassisted. I did have to help when our sow Sweet Pea had her first batch of piglets. Our local vet didn't want to drive out when the she stalled in her labor, so she talked me through it on the phone. It was so exciting and as I have skinny hands and arms it was easy for me and for Sweet Pea. She successfully farrowed and raised her first batch up well.
|Fancy soon after birth|
We used an eye dropper to get a little replacement milk in and in the morning she was more feisty, so every hour I took her out to her mama and let her nurse to get colostrum. With a dozen brothers and sisters little Fancy didn't have enough gumption to fight for the milk, so I had to help her out by keeping the others away from her nipple. We tried just leaving her with the litter a few times, but she always got cold and lost in the shuffle. For days I walked her back and forth to the sow and held her up to her mama's teats. Sometimes she would seem to nurse well, other times not. On day 4 she began drinking out of a little saucer and I was relieved as carrying her back and forth to the barn all day was a bit of a chore. Then the seizures started. That was the beginning of the end really and by the 5th morning she was dead.
Mark and I mourned the loss. Who wouldn't. We gave it all we had, but she still died. It hit me hard and I couldn't really figure out why as, with a lifetime of doctoring little critters, I've lost quite a few. This was not a new experience. Talking to Mark about it I said, "We tried so hard and she still died," and I then started sobbing. I then realized it wasn't the piglet I was talking about, but my mother.
My mom died from complications of Alzheimer disease. Mark and I had tried caring for her in her home and eventually placed her in a care facility as it was just too hard taking care of her. I still had guilt. I still wished I could have saved her. This little runt of a piglet helped me find that guilt and finally release it. Thank you Fancy. Thank you God. Sometimes there is just nothing you can do, but do your best, and then let it go.