Shot At and Missed
by Dave Loftin
Dad’s call for help came right at calving time. The old brindle was in obvious distress. Of course we couldn’t get close enough to help much so we called for the vet and started moving her toward the barn and working pens. This turned into quite a merry go round with the vet impatiently waiting while we would herd her up to the gate only to have her turn back and run for a few acres. The vet finally said to call him if we ever caught her and he would come back. All this time, she was nervously splattering fresh green stuff everywhere.
We finally set up a wing of panels curving around the barn and my brother brought his horse and ran her into the wing where she rounded a corner and was caught before she had a chance to see it coming. Then it was just a couple of gates to get her into the sweep tub and into the chute alley. There she stopped. NOW, she didn’t seem to mind being touched. No amount of begging, pleading, or shoving was going to make her walk into that chute. You can imagine what her rear end looked like. Freshly digested spring grass everywhere. This was when dad decided that she was not going to move so we might as well find out what the problem with the calf was right there. With a gloved hand, he pulled her tail out the side of the bars, looked at me, and said “Go ahead.” The passing of the torch had been made. Now it was me at the business end with little choice but to strip to my tee shirt and forge ahead. After all, he was 75 and was standing there holding her tail that had been lashing wildly, flinging green glop everywhere.
With a roll of paper towels from the pickup, I wiped until I could at least see where I was going and reached in to find one hoof and a nose. The nose became a muzzle and suddenly it licked my hand! I was elated. Good sign, the calf was alive! A little more exploration and I was past both ears before I found the other leg. It was somehow turned back and crossed over behind the head. Even though this was uncharted territory for me, I knew that leg had to be shifted around and lined up with the other one. The vet had been called but said he was tied up for a while so we should try to work it out ourselves.
My manipulations were not helping the cow calm down. She managed to shift a little and twitch her tail at the same time. The slick tail flew out of Dad’s gloved hand that was also very slick by now. With a wet sounding WHOP it slapped me in the side of the head and left a trail across my hair. This wasn’t a hair tonic commercial where a little dab will do ya. I got the whole thing. Dad somehow managed to catch the tail on the back swing to prevent me getting another dose even though I knew he would rather be doubled over laughing.
I had to back away for a minute and wipe a few drips off my eyebrows. Then it was time to dive back in. I had the slippery leg almost worked from behind the head and was past elbow deep when I felt the cow shudder and slightly arch her back. Then a loud cough came out her throat as something quite different came out the back. I was stuck. Up close and personal. Face to face with a gas powered bazooka as the green slimy projectile found me at point blank range. The pressurized liquid forced up my tee shirt sleeve, hit the armpit and diverted downward. What didn’t go up the sleeve came past my shoulder and found my chin, then split in two and wrapped around my head. Some went up my nose. I was just happy I had been straining with the leg and had my teeth clenched and my mouth tightly closed. There was no time to react or duck. I had been holding my breath but when I exhaled, green bubbles came out of my nose.
I was standing there, shell shocked and dripping, Dad still gallantly hanging onto her tail when the vet rolled up. Never have I been so happy to step aside and turn something over to another person. Within minutes he had the heifer calf out with mama licking and encouraging it to get up.
It took a lot of scrubbing and shampoo to clean off the visible stuff. The white tee shirt had green grass stains that never came out. It seemed like I could smell it for a week no matter how much I blew my nose and my wife’s supply of Q tips was greatly depleted as I kept swabbing green stuff out of my ears.
Since then, I have learned a few things. I took an A. I. class and got certified. I got special coveralls with the sleeves cut out and lots of pockets for paper towels. I tagged along with a couple of vets to learn how to do special manipulations if a calf is crooked in the birth canal. I think I am a lot more prepared for such situations now. However, I still duck every time I hear a cow cough.
Original art by Mary Arneson.