One Saturday morning, as I went out to feed the cows in the dark before leaving for market, I noticed Sam was lying down. He was usually right there at the head of the line for breakfast. It's a good thing there was a bright moon, or I would have missed seeing him.
Sam wouldn't get up. He had foam coming out of his mouth. His head was off the ground, but I was very worried. I gave him a bucket of water, but he only drank about half of it. I called one of the other milkers on my way to market and asked him to stop by and check on Sam later in the morning. He told me that Sam was up and about at 10:00 a.m., but that he only drank about a half bucket of water.
I also called the vet, Mat. He said to keep an eye on him and he would stop by on Monday morning if he wasn't any better. He thought it might be metal disease, and he told me what to do in the meantime. Bovines love to munch on bits of metal. It is imperative that we do not leave any metal lying around. But occasionally I find a small piece of wire or a fencing hook lying in the pasture. It happens, no matter how careful we all are. Mat suggested that I put a magnet down him. Any loose metal will stick to the magnet instead of migrating to the heart, where it can be fatal. Unfortunately, Sean, my 10 year old visitor who had lived at the farm for a month, had found the plastic pill pusher to be an interesting toy. I saw him with it one day and should have taken it from him, but thought he would put it back when his curiosity was satisfied. It was nowhere to be found, and when I contacted Roy, he said Sean had no memory of it. Sigh . . .
So I headed out for the farm store for a new pill pusher and a magnet. Only one pill pusher on the shelf, and it had a broken handle. No magnets, either. After calling around to three vets, I finally found one who had both. So off I went to another town, about ten miles away. The pill pusher cost four times what it had at the farm store, but I had no choice. I went home and got the magnet down Sam's throat and hoped for the best.
Sam wasn't getting any better. Mat thought it might be that Sam had been getting too much balage, so I put him in with the calves where he would get a diet of dry hay only. Still, he wasn't any better. At one point, the vet warned me that he might not make it. Mat thought it might be constipation, and I tried to get mineral oil down him, but he didn't find it tasty. In fact, he was drinking very little water and was becoming noticeably thinner. So Mat came out. He hoped it was an impacted second stomach, which would cause him pain when he tried to drink or eat and would explain his weight loss. Of all of the options, it was the best and the easiest to treat. We would force feed him a couple of quarts of mineral oil in a few gallons of warm water.
My granddaughter, the medical student, was living with me at the time, and she came out to the barn to watch. Mat held Sam's head and put a tube down his throat, making sure he got into the right stomach. He ascertained it was the correct one by smelling the gas that came out of the tube - different stomachs have different odors. (Sure hope you are not eating breakfast while you are reading this.) While he held Sam's head, I began to pour mineral oil and warm water down the tube. Four and a half gallons of it, to be precise. Poor Sam! There was a lot of belching and it wasn't pleasant! At last the job was done.
Kate said she had to get ready for work at the clinic where she was doing her family practice round. As she left the barn, I asked her if she would like to be a vet. She answered, "No way!"
Sam's health improved daily. I left him with the calves until I was sure that he was eating and drinking. There were no more episodes of foaming from the mouth. It was amazing how quickly he started putting on some weight.
Finally it was time for him to go back with the cows. He was a bit indignant. A few of the cows are quite capable of pushing him aside at feeding time, but the calves were no match for the big guy. He had thoroughly enjoyed the extra attention and extra hay that he got while living with the calves.
I am so happy that Sam made it. He is such a sweetie, and I hope to have him around for a long time.