Dairy farm stories : Trouble in the cowshed

My mother feeding the orphan calf along with my son, Prachet.

‘Expecting’ at the cowshed

Having a pregnant cow due for delivery at the barn (barn is the true English word for cowshed), is almost like having a lady due for delivery at home. The members and workers of the farm should behave differently almost since the conception of the cow. I am generally curious to try out new wild fodder varieties for our cows. But this is too risky with a conceived cow. Any mistake can lead to miscarriage Fodder with rough sandy texture like bamboo leaves, a few Fig varieties (ex:ಪಾಜೇವು) are a strict No No.

With the delivery date nearing, any untimely noise, call or movement at the cowshed could hint the possibility of delivery having begun or sometimes completed. Though cows are much too advanced(!) and can manage the delivery themselves, sometimes they may need help. All that looks the same every time for every delivery, but it’s new every time as well.

When I was just engaged, we had a twin birth at cowshed, both being female. It was very rare for us just as unique my engagement was!. With human perspective, we found it auspicious as it coincided with my engagement. Though not quite up to our expectation, they had grown up eventually and borne calves. We sold off one of them due to obvious constraints like space in the cowshed or our limited capacity to look after them. The one which remained with us gave birth to her 3rd calf a couple of weeks back. The female calf was very active and required little assistance for the first feeding.

Bad news after birth

For those who are new to all these, the cow and the calf require careful attention  during the first few weeks. The cow yields very thick yellowish nutritious milk for the calf during the initial days which is highly susceptible to infection inside the udder (the breast of the cow). This infection is generally called ‘mastitis’ which is a nightmare to the dairy farmer and ofcourse painful and at times fatal to the cow.

It is very important to clean up all the remnant milk and wash the udder to prevent chances of mastitis. Mastitis is a big villain with a number of its cousins (variants) in the gang, each having different symptoms. As you can imagine by now, our cow showed signs of mastitis on the very second day L The bacteria of mastitis could be a biological wonder which probably just remains dormant in the barn when it doesn’t get a chance, but reappears out of sleep when a new birth takes place. It doesn’t show up as long as milk is drained diligently, once the initial 15 days milking period is over.

I started getting slightly frantic calls from home. However, I wanted to see the case personally so that I can explain properly to our on-call support Doctor Dr. Manohara Upadhya. In the night when I checked, the matter looked serious enough. When I sprayed water on the udder – which is a suggested practice – the cow got up, but not quite quickly. I failed to notice its trouble in getting up. Homeopathic medicines were given after telephonic consultation.

The next day the cow didn’t get up. Again for those who are new to dairy farming – if the mammoth body of the cow denies to get up, then it’s a red alert. When this happens after birth, generally this is due to the dip in calcium level (from a layman perspective) and gets alright with a dose of calcium intra-venous dosage, which was given before noon. But it didn’t show any significant improvement.

Our resident agri worker Krishna, had been making all the effort he could, as though he himself is the owner of the cow. The next day was a Friday and I had a long weekend with Friday off. I joined him for the next 2 days. We (thought we) tried every possibility, with hourly homeopathic doses, glucose, calcium, and medicinal injections for mastitis and possible deficiencies and weaknesses and external application on the udder.

Do’s and don’ts of making a cow stand

On Friday and Saturday, we physically tried making the cow stand (3 times in total). This is not in general a panacea for its problems. But if the cow is nearly alright, and just lacking a confidence to get up, this might help a bit. Also this will help prevent the bovine equivalent of a bedsore from happening. This can be done if the cow is medium sized and if we have enough people to lift the cow.
We used rope technique as suggested by our greatly helpful VLI (village Livestock inspector) for our village Mr. Krishnamoorthi. We succeeded on the first day, with a lion share of effort made by Krishna. However, the cow nearly collapsed after a while due to weakness, without much injury. I got my left hand badly bruised in the process as I tried protecting the cow. The second day we made it stand up, provided support of a rope attached to the beam of the building. In spite of my insistence to bring it back to rest, the ‘mob’ preferred to leave it as is, which resulted in the cow getting tired after a while literally leaving itself hung on the rope (tough photo to watch, pardon me).
Cow made to stand with the help of support
When the cow gave up due to weakness
According to me here are the do’s and don’ts:

·         Do it only for medium or small sized cows.
·         We need ideally 6 people to do this. Any lesser could further damage the cow.
·         I found it important to bring the cow back to rest. Just because it has stood up, leaving it as is could be too damaging to the cow. Do not leave it in the standing position for a long time.
·         ‘Rope technique’ is quite helpful and doesn’t strain any one part of the body. I will explain this in a separate post when time permits with pictures.

Victory of death

Finally after all these, on Saturday night, the cow decided to part ways with us. It had laid itself on the ground completely by then, due to weakness and aggravated illness. Possibly due to breathing problem it was just pushing its limbs down making a bizarre noise from mouth. The stomach was badly swollen. I was shaken by this scene. I could literally see death taking over life. Even at this time, due to Krishna’s insistence and his unrelenting ‘hope’, we fed a couple of digestive tablets to ease its bloated stomach. In the next 2 hours, the cow embraced silence.

The cow, surrendered to death

The next day, due to an unavoidable function, I had to be absent for the long exercise of transporting and burying the cow, easily weighing 400+ kilos. Neighboring workers helped us with this exercise, with lead role taken by Krishna.

The death of a cow causes quite a big damage to the farmer. With farmer selling every liter of milk at nearly 15 rupees of loss, the modern economists might prove that ‘death of a cow is actually a profit’.  It is now left to the perception how you want to measure it.

This episode taught quite a few lessons to me about handling cattle, especially when ill. I saw a death in the barn after quite a few years, may be a decade. Death is a celebration in nature. The next morning, I touched the cow laid cold on ground by death. Numerous flies were already on it, not sure eating what. I am sure innumerable (beyond millions) worms, underground insects and decomposers must be having a grand feast by now under the soil – the soil, which is the placenta for all life. Time would make the entire body of the cow disappear in some time may be years. The cycle of life would move on…

[Note: I am not an ‘english writer’. I have written in English since the pleasures and sorrows of farming do not speak for themselves nowadays. I have also written this in Kannada as a separate post. But I have many friends from non-Kannada world, whom I would like to possibly reach.

If you have comments on photographing the dying cow, I have some points to make. The white liquid called milk that comes in the packet requires diligent hard work of a team of people in any dairy farm. To familiarize ourselves with the source of the food, it should be depicted in some way – both its good and bad facets, using words or pictures; I have just done that. Hope this justifies.]


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