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Fighting for a Lost Cause

Caring for sick babies is part of raising livestock, but it can be heartbreaking work.

Sometimes, you do everything you can for an animal, and it still doesn’t work out. We had a calf born on the coldest day of the year. The kids named her Winter.

We were relieved to see the little heifer eating, cozying up next to her mama, and running around kicking up snow. We had dodged a bullet.

Then, a week later, my husband found her lying down, unable to get up. He carried her onto our enclosed back porch, and our neighbor and farm mentor, Mike, came over and took a look. She was struggling to breathe, so I quickly Googled, “Can you give albuterol to a cow?” and gave her a dose via my son’s nebulizer. I was desperate to help.

We plugged in a space heater to warm her up, but after a few hours, decided to take her to the vet. It was too cold to put her in a trailer or the back of the pickup, so I folded the seat down in my Suburban and threw down a tarp. 

The vet on call said sometimes a heart problem will show up when a calf is 1 week old, but he also diagnosed her with pneumonia. At one point, she wheezed deeply, and he said, “She may be taking her last breaths.”

After it became apparent that she wasn’t giving up the fight, the vet gave her some shots and sent us home with more to give her. He told us to just keep her comfortable and said the nebulizer treatments were a good idea.

While she took some milk from a bottle, it wasn’t enough, so we had to tube her. We kept her warm in a hay-filled baby pool on our porch. 

She had shown signs of improvement, but on the third night, she seemed worse. My husband and I and our oldest son – our cattleman – made the decision that if she wasn’t any better by morning, it was time.

The next morning, my husband got up early to fix a bottle, and when he came back upstairs right away, I knew she was gone. We didn’t have to make that decision.

Everyone in my house had taken care of Winter, because even though the prognosis was never good, it was the right thing to do. She was a calf, not a kid or a pet, and this is part of raising livestock, but it still broke our hearts a bit. 

My neighbor, Alan, told me afterward, “As with many things, it is better to expend effort in a losing cause than to carry the regret of not trying. And, praise God, we don’t always lose.”

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