Most of the animals on our farm service a food purpose. We like to know where our food comes from and how it was treated before it became food. It is very important to me that my children grow up knowing that even though an animal is intended for food it still deserves a decent life and respect as a living being. “Zack,” one of the steers is nearing the end of his time with us and I feel that his story is unique and should be shared.
The end of April 2016, about six weeks after my last daughter was born. This is significant in the fact that I had major complications delivering her, resulting in extensive abdominal surgery (please see the link to that story at the bottom of the page). At this time I was really just starting to function again. Just days before I had been cleared to drive again and allowed to lift my baby, but our fair deadline was approaching and my daughter was in need of her dairy project for the year.
Now, there is little cuter than a brand new Jersey calf, and Zack was no exception. Roughly the size of a small Labrador retriever, my husband carried him from the trailer to his new pen, complete with a heat lamp, fluffy straw, and some hay to nibble on, he even had a sweater vest!
The first night went ok for us, he drank a little milk from his bucket and was comfortable in his new home. The next morning things started to go south. Zack didn’t want his bucket for breakfast. I could only coax him to drink a little a few hours later while the babies napped in the house and only a little more at dinner. Zack was obviously growing weaker. Later that evening my husband went to check on him for the night and called me from the barn (gotta love cell phones!), Zack had gotten much worse and asked what he should do. The only logical response my sleep deprived brain could come up with was to bring him in the house, we did it with lambs when I was growing up, why not a calf?
It is important to note here that:
#1- He is only the size of a large dog
#2- We have a completely tiled bathroom separate from the rest of our house that was specifically designed to handle barn-yuck.
#3- I am a Licensed Veterinary Technician and have been trained to deal with contagious and zoonotic disease.
I knew that I would not be able to go out to the barn to care for him with the two babies in the house during the day, and it really wasn’t warm enough to haul a newborn out to the barn. I also wasn’t strong enough to take my babies out to the barn with me, the walk itself was exhausting. I also knew he would die if someone wasn’t keeping a constant eye on him. So, my husband carried that sick little calf into the house and put him in the designated area. I was able to get a few more cups of milk into him and let him rest. That was all I could do for the moment.
The morning brought us explosive watery diarrhea and a calf that could not stand up. Poor Zack was so dehydrated from diarrhea that he could barely move. This is called scours in the cattle world and can be brought on by many things, including stress. Like so many in the medical fields, I take sickness and death in situations like this as a personal insult, and I absolutely refused to let this calf die. I rotated him every couple hours and I cleaned him up the best I could and got a little water into him, packed my kids up to take the oldest to school and then hurried to the local farm supply store. I bought every single thing on the shelf related to dehydration, diarrhea, and infection I could get my hands on. I was calling local farmers and any large animal veterinarian that would answer the phone. I also called in a favor to a local small animal veterinarian for some IV fluids.
Armed with my supplies and advice from the large animal veterinarian, I deposited my babies with my parents who had come over to offer some assistance and did my best to re-hydrate, re-electrolyte and re-PH balance that little calf. He also got a dose of penicillin to ward off pneumonia and shipping fever and an anti-parasitic medication in case he had a common parasite that causes diarrhea, knowing that he had been moved around a couple times before reaching our home.
Within two long, anxious hours, sneaking away from the babies as often as I could to check on him, and turn him over so he wouldn’t get sores, Zack was standing on his own, and even more exciting he was hungry! He was still quite weak and spent one more night in the bathroom, and the next morning my husband kicked him out because he was really starting to make a mess. And it was getting tiresome having to put on coveralls to go in and take them off and bleach our shoes to go out of his room.
That evening he started to get weak again since it was cold and it took more energy just to stay warm (Did I mention this was like the weirdest weather ever in Michigan? And April was the only cold we had had in weeks???). I gave him another round of IV fluids and continued with his other treatments. He was right as rain after by the next morning.
Zack went on to be a great 4-H project, even if he was a little stubborn, and maybe flopped over on his side during showmanship…. But he was a sweetheart for my daughter and still is to this day. I have to admit, I personally am a little attached to him after our experience together, and I did my level best to sell him as a bull to someone else. Alas, that is not the way the cards fell and he will soon become nourishment for our family.
I know there were gasps of horror that I gave an animal intended for food medication. But the fact is he would have died a horrible death without them and all of these medications have well left his body now a year later. If you ran tests of his muscle tissues, you wouldn’t find a trace of the medications he had been given. With drawl, periods are on every medication, and it is the law to follow them. Most withdraw periods are less than two months.
I also don’t expect and totally understand that not every farmer can do (or should) what I did for Zack. It was a big gamble that took a lot of connections, education, cursing and prayer, lots of prayers, to make it work. The truth is, though; most farmers will do whatever they can to save an animal on their farm, even one intended for food. I have seen many pictures of calves, or lambs or goat, you name in garages or snuggled up with their farmers in the barn trying to make sure they pull through. And when the time comes to take those animals to their final destination, you might hear us joke about how good they will taste, or you might hear us say a good riddance. But quietly, we whisper a small goodbye and maybe wipe a small tear of thanks away as we turn to go.
Curious why getting Zack 6-weeks after My Last Baby? Click the link to read that story!