Warning: This post is about putting down a cow. As in killing it. If that is bothersome to you, you may choose to quit reading now. I have not posted any photos in this topic, just word pictures. Which may be too much for some readers.
Ok…. so if youre still with me, just know that it’s been an emotional day. Odd emotions for a variety of reasons.
This morning Steve came in from feeding cows and as usual I said “Everyone good?” He nodded, walked in the other room and sat down. Had very little to say. THAT is unusual. But I really didnt think about it then. After 2 hours he came and said “I dont know who to call….. we need to get Ellie taken care of today”. I didnt really know what that meant…..
Ellie is the cow that had a calf last Tuesday night. She wouldnt feed the little girl calf, so we are bottle feeding it. Ellie has seemed just fine, eating, drinking, had “cleaned out” completely Wed morning. (cleaned out means getting rid of the afterbirth) She has not seemed to even miss her calf who is now living in a pen in the barn.
This morning though, Ellie had ruptured. Her entire back end…. well….. her insides were hanging outside. I was pretty sure that it was her bowel, but couldnt really tell for sure. It looked like 2 red basketballs. ugh.
So by the time Steve was able to get it out of his mouth, that she needed to be gone…. and I then figured out that he meant to put her down…… I also realized that Steve was totally immobilized. I didnt get why. This calm, cool, collected in most circumstances guy…. a voice of reason when I am unreasonable….. the cool, outside the box problem solver when I cant see straight enough to even know the problem, much less solve it….. THIS man was immobilized by emotion. by feeling totally out of control. by not knowing what the hell to do. Not really because the cow would die…. because we send them to slaughter every year…. but more because this is a medical emergency. He doesnt do medical stuff. Not good at it, too stressful, too out of his control and not his area of expertise or knowledge base.
So I kicked in to action. I hadnt seen Ellie yet, so I went for a little visit. She was across the pasture, maybe 50 yds from me. And as soon as I saw her I cried. I cried because I was sure she must be in pain. Heck, I have given birth, and its a girl thing to feel HER pain. After watching her for about 5 minutes, I realized she didnt seem to be in too much discomfort. She was eating hay at the bale feeder with the others. She seemed pretty nonchalant. But I did notice her “pushing”…. as if wanting to poop. (ok….. so I’m using lots of technical terms today) And I knew this was a medical event that she could not survive. (medical stuff IS my area of experience and knowledge base)
I came in, told Steve that I saw several options.
Do nothing, wait for her to die, then bury her in the woods.
Call the vet which would be incredibly expensive and he would put her down and we would bury her.
Call the slaughter house/butcher to have him come and get her, hopefully to recoup some meat.
Steve or I could shoot her, then we would bury her.
So we called the butcher. Several. Everyone is closed on Sunday. But I dont think she will last till tomorrow. So I jump in the car and go to the neighbor farmer that I have known for 20 yrs. He is plowing his field (mud) so I tracked down his wife. She gives me a number for another guy who runs a slaughter house. We call him. For hours. No answer.
In the meantime, Ellie is worse. Not in visible pain, but I can see that she is now bleeding. Not good. She is on her knees at one point, then gets back up and walks to the other end of the trees. She has separated herself from all of the other cattle. She reminded me of an Indian who knows she is going to die and leaves the village to go die in peace.
Steve jumps in the truck, goes to the slaughterhouse. Nobody there. He knocks on a neighbor’s door (wow, this is SO ballsy for Steve!) and gets directions to the guy’s house. He goes there, finds the guy. Guy tells him he will be here in 2 hrs.
So…. while Steve is gone, 2 of Steve’s brothers and a 10 yr old nephew appear to band 2 calves. They have to wait for Steve to come home to do that. But they have now noticed Ellie in the pasture. So does the 10 yr old. So I explained to all 3 what was happening and what was gonna happen. I’m not sure one bro believed me till Steve got home and told him same thing.
One cow got banded. They gave up trying to rope the 2nd. The 3 guys left.
Steve and I both felt some better knowing that the executioner was coming soon. But I still really didnt know what to expect. We have never had to do this before, so it was all new to me. Steve grew up on a farm, so it was not new to him. And at this point he says he could shoot her….. yeah. right. I dont think so honey. I really dont. I could have, but dont think Steve had it in him. He can barely stand to look at her. He can shovel tons and tons of cow shit…. but he cant look at her bloody backside. Or the woeful eyes.
The cattle hauler truck finally arrives. 3 men get out of the truck. I asked questions that someone else may have said were stupid….. this man looked me in the eye, answered me calmly and without any kind of smirk or “you dumb ass broad” look on his face. He was absolutely wonderful.
Steve took some GOOD hay (the kind they think is candy) and put it over the fence where this guy could get a good shot at Ellie. All the cows lined up and started eating their “candy”. And the guy aimed and fired his .243. Ellie dropped. The other cows jumped and scooted around some…. then started eating again. Steve took the tractor in, the guy slit her throat, he chained her to the tractor and Steve dragged her out of the pasture. Then they winched her into the cattle hauler.
So…. when all that was done, I asked him if he would explain some cow anatomy to me. He walked back to the trailer, opened the door and let me ask every damn question I wanted. And answered every single one of them. He and his 2 helpers were so respectful. So kind. They treated our cow with respect and dignity. And Steve and me too.
So here is what I know. She kept pushing after having her calf. Some cows just do that. Nobody knows why. And she ended up pushing out her own insides. Her bowel was twisted, full, and outside of her. Her uterus was also outside of her. And she would have died for sure. A vet would not have fixed her. He would have put her down immediately. Because he shot her, slit her throat to bleed her out right away, and hauled her to his facility within 20 minutes of here, the meat will be fine. She will be made into hamburger. She was 4… so thats too old for good steak and roast.
So….. the real issue today was being able to think straight through the emotions. And the other real question was: WHY so emotional?? They are cows! That we raise for meat! If we can eat em, then whats the big whoop?
So I figured it out this afternoon. It is the helplessness. There was not one thing we could do for Ellie to make it better. We couldnt fix her. We didnt want her to suffer. We didnt want to lose all we had in her by letting the meat go to waste. And she looked so damn awful. She didnt seem to be in pain, but she looked awful. And it hurt to look at her. And yet I did. Over and over again.
There were also many many positives today:
I was able to be the brave one for Steve. (he probably doesnt see it that way, but I do) We work well together that way…. one kicks in when the other cant.
Ellie is out of her misery.
We will recoup by selling lots of burger.
One calf got banded.
Steve spent time with 2 brothers and a nephew.
We know who to call if we ever need to put down another cow.
I learned some cow anatomy in a MOST respectful manner, from a very respectful guy. I am SO grateful to know that we can call him again.
And on all those happy notes……. I went to pick up burgers for supper.