Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Not for the faint hearted. Skip if you don't want to read about injured cow.

The farm may seem like an idyllic place, and it is for the most part, especially when we are enjoying lovely fall weather.  But sometimes tough stuff happens.  I got notes from several of you mourning with me about Lola.  That was a tough decision, and I appreciated your kind words of understanding and support.  But worse than the death of a cow is an injury.  That is an ongoing thing, and it is hard to watch the cow's pain and suffering, especially when she is depending on me to make things right.

When choosing a career, "nurse" didn't even register with me because I am just not good around blood or pain.  I have a weak stomach.  If you read my post "I didn't wanna do it . . ." about giving Rosie a shot of vitamin C, then you will know that I am not really Florence Nightingale, even though I pretended to be after that episode.  But that was a small thing compared to Lucy's injury.

Saturday evening Kathy, who had milked, told me that Lucy had a sore teat, that it appeared to be stripped of the skin on the lower half, and that Lucy wouldn't let her touch it.  By then Lucy was back in the pasture and it was already getting towards dusk.  I called Mat, our vet, but got no response.  I took the coward's way out and said I would deal with it Sunday night when the milker got there.  Erin milked Sunday night, and when she arrived, we had trouble getting Lucy into the milking parlor.  When I looked at the teat, I started to shake.  It was raw meat - must have been terribly painful for her.  Her udder wasn't swollen, not even that quarter, which had remained unmilked the night before.  I told Erin to milk out the other three quarters and leave the quarter with the injured teat alone.

I came in and called Mat again, still no answer, so I left another message and I could hear my voice shaking.  He must have heard it too, because he called me early on Monday morning.  I explained the situation as best I could and asked him to come out.  He told me that it is a fairly common injury, caused when another cow steps on the cow's teat while she is lying down.  When she jerks away, it pulls the skin off the teat.  He told me it was important that we milk her.  So that evening when the new milker arrived (each of the seven milkers milks for a week at a time, Monday through Sunday), I told her to check Lucy's unmilked quarter to see if it was hard.  She wasn't sure, and when I checked it, I knew it must be milked.  If it was allowed to swell, then she would develop mastitis, and it could affect all four quarters.  Our herd is certified organic and treatment for mastitis is limited.

The milker milked all of the cows, including three of Lucy's four quarters.   She pumped all of the milk to the collection tank, drained the line and turned off the vacuum pump.  Then she called me and I came out to do something a lot more difficult than sticking a needle full of vitamin C into a cow's neck.  After spraying warm water on the injured quarter (she wouldn't even allow that 24 hours earlier so I knew it was healing), I put the milker on all four of Lucy's teats.  When I put it on the injured one, all hell broke loose.  She kicked the inflations (that is what the devices that attach to each teat are called) from the three good teats, but it held on the bad one, I suppose because it was so swollen.  She danced around and kicked a lot, with me dancing right along with her, holding the inflation as tightly as I could against the injured teat.  Lucy was in pain, and she was shitting!  All over me, all over the railings, all over the floor, all over the milking machine.  When she kicked it off the injured teat, I called it a day and shut down the system.  Lucy's injured teat continued to spray milk onto the floor.  That was a very good thing, because releasing the pressure is important.  I sprayed her udder some more, and whether it was the hot water washer or cold water from the hose, it calmed her down.

I used the hose to clean up the worst of the manure that was coating a good bit of my right arm and was spackled all over my front side.  We let Lucy out of the barn leaking a trail of milk and I went into the house to clean up.

I called the vet right away to give him an update and ask about next steps.  He was amazed that I had managed to milk her alone.  He said it usually takes two people, one to pull back on the tail (it keeps them from kicking) and one to milk.  He also said we needed to milk her at least twice a day - do NOT let the milk build up in that quarter!  So this morning I called my right hand farmer Kathy and asked her to come down to help me.  We brought in all of the cows, since it would keep Lucy more tightly in place and she would also have the comfort of the other cows around her. 

She was calmer than the previous evening.  But is was the same routine - kicked off the milker and defecated all over both of us, but I got the brunt of it since I had the milking machine in hand.  She kept the milker on a shorter time than the night before - less swelling in the teat, more than likely.  The leaking started, which of course was relieving the pressure, but it stopped fairly quickly.  I tried hand milking her, avoiding the raw lower part of the teat.  She kicked me several times - I have the bruises and scratches to prove it.  She began leaking copiously again, and we called it a day.  Kathy cleaned up the milking system while I cleaned out the milking parlor and then fed the cows their morning ration of hay.

Tonight the milker, Leifschon, repeated our routine of last night, milking out three quarters, then called me.  Tonight I got smarter and had her hold the tail tightly as far over her back as it would go.  Problem!  The milking machine yielded no milk at all.  So I tried to hand milk again - finally, milk was released.

She did not defecate on me tonight, in fact none at all in the barn.  That is good news.  It means the pain is abating.

This is a tough life, more than I bargained for on some days.  I will be glad when Lucy is all better again.  Updates will be forthcoming, for those who were able to read through this to the end.

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