Putting a Cow Down

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.


21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Freda Henderson
    Mar 30, 2008 @ 20:35:15

    Sorry about Ellie Gayle. Maybe it’s one Mother hurting for another.


  2. Deb Levy
    Mar 30, 2008 @ 20:48:53

    I am glad that in the midst of an awful time, you were able to find probably the one person on earth who treated you and your cow with dignity and respect. That is worth a lot in this world.


  3. rondabeyer
    Mar 30, 2008 @ 21:29:04

    I understand and can relate to you and Steve, we never want to see anything suffer, I am glad you were strong, I am glad you got respect that was deserved and I am glad you recouped your investment, I am sorry for your loss.. Sending comforting hugs your way….


  4. Sharon Dixon
    Mar 30, 2008 @ 21:43:36

    Gayle, I’m so sorry. What a terrible experience for you and Steve.


  5. myolivebranch
    Mar 30, 2008 @ 22:36:58

    perhaps it was so emotional because you and steve are incredibly compassionate people. i’m sorry you had such a raw emotional day. better days ahead.


  6. michele
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 07:48:19

    Bless those kind men who helped you through this shocking experience.


  7. AllenQuilts
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 09:39:14

    Why was it so emotional? Because you & Steve are DECENT HUMAN beings…you are, to me, what farming/ranching is supposed to be…you are good stewards of the animals in your care. Yes, they are a source of income and food…but you treat them with the respect and appreciation that they deserve…She may just have been a cow, but a life none the less…and like you’ve said before…life is a miracle in itself. It was a sad day…I’m sorry…and I’m thankful you found people that had the right attitude to the job that had to be done. And I’m thankful that there are people like you in the world.


  8. TeresaL
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 10:50:10

    Gayle, it is horrible to watch and know that an animal is ill or suffering and not be able to ‘fix’ it yourself. I’ve always breathed a huge sigh of relief when the vet’s truck comes up the driveway when we are having an emergency with one of our animals. I see him as a knight in shining armor (he got a kick out of that one when I told him). A huge relief to find others who can help us with those things that we either cannot do or do not have the knowledge to fix.

    It is sad that this happened….but what a blessing that this gentleman was the one to give you & Steve the help you needed when you needed it.


  9. sammi
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 11:20:50

    Thank you, Lord, for sending the right person to the right place to help Steve, Gayle, and Ellie.

    I cried …….


  10. Christine Olson
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 11:51:54

    I saw mention of your cow elsewhere, so came over to see what was happening. I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s hard to see any living thing suffer.

    You and Steve do make a good team and how fortunate you guys found a decent person to help you, too.

    Wishing you a happier day today!


  11. carlafibers
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 16:30:18

    Oh Gayle, I am so sorry to hear about your cow. It is so incredibly hard to watch any living thing in pain, you did the right thing.


  12. Becky
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 17:34:48

    You and Steve were both hurting for Ellie! It is an animals way to not show pain to the others in the herd..it is a self saving device. You both did the right thing for her and thankfully you do have her calf to continue her legacy in bloodline. You will get through this and remember who to call if ever needed again. We are never to old to learn are we? I will pray that you guys continue to do well and be there for each other in such situations. No wonder you have been together for so long!!! LOL….take care.


  13. Diana Wilson
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 20:05:47

    This post really touched me in so many ways. I love that you were there for Steve when he needed you to be. Sometimes our strong men just have an achilles heel. (or something like that). You answered so many questions I never would have the nerve to ask such as why does it hurt so much to put a cow down when you butcher them regularly for their meat…I get it though..I really do. You write so well. It is if I am standing there and taking it all in right beside you. You will get what beef you can from this (I hate waste). And the cow is out of her misery. Wow. What a story you told. Thanks for sharing it with us. Take care…you and Steve!


  14. Judy Wolf
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 22:34:27

    Unfortunately, this happens sometimes with cows. I’m sorry you and Steve had to go through this but glad you were there for one another. We have a herd of over 100 cows plus calves and it is always a heart breaker to lose one. Even the other cows will mourn her loss. You did a good thing putting her down and easing her suffering.

    Judy in MO


  15. Cindy
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 19:52:07

    Sweet courageous Ellie. I’m sure that naming your animals personalizes all of your experiences with them. Is shooting the only way to “put down ” a cow? I wonder how the rush of hormones affects the meat. I’ve recently stopped eating ,eat because I could no longer reconcile the slaughter of animals for human consumption. I don’t down others who make different choices. I still eat fish, just no mammals.


  16. Ronnie
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 14:11:56

    Yes, naming animals shows a sense of caring but on the other hand, a pimp takes care of his “girls” but collects the money they make from the sex business. In order for cows to continue to give milk, they must get pregnant every year and what happens to that baby? This is what the dairy industry doesn’t want people to know. Getting pregnant every year is an unnecesary toll on the cows. Milk is not healthy for humans to drink and we can see this in the obesity of our children.


  17. myolivebranch
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 08:27:16

    pu-lease. save us from the people that want to save us.


  18. Gayle
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 17:34:22

    I allowed the comment from Ronnie because I believe in free speech and that everyone is entitled to an opinion.

    But lets be clear. This is my blog. Ronnie’s opinion could not be more different than mine.

    I live in dairy country. My neighbors are all dairy farmers. I am thankful they are so we can have milk, butter, cottage cheese and a bazillion other products at the grocery store. And they are grateful to have meat on their table from cows like ours.

    As for Cindy’s comment about the hormones when a cow is shot: the meat is not affected. Nope, not at all. And wont eat meat cuz of slaughtering animals for human consumption. But WILL eat fish? Why? they get slaughtered too. Ever go fishing? No? C’mon over, I will take you fishing, then teach you to fillet that fish while it is still flopping for a minute.



  19. Karmen Sunshine
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 18:39:41

    I realize this is an old post, but I wanted to comment anyway. Owning and caring for animals, especially on a farm where animals are referred to as livestock, is a tough undertaking. I have “pets,” and would never want to see any of them suffer for any reason, especially after giving birth. On a farm, as I understand it from watching my older relatives, you do love your animals, and make them comfortable for as long as you expect their lives to be. You know at the end they will be on someone’s table somewhere, and that is what is supposed to happen. We have gotten so far from our agrarian roots in this country, that consumers don’t have any connection to the process anymore.


    • Gayle
      Jan 10, 2010 @ 23:06:42

      Thanks for your comment. Part of why I talk about our cattle is so that my city folk friends and family can get some sense of what we do and why we do it. I am glad you appreciate that aspect.


  20. Todd
    Mar 16, 2017 @ 14:07:42

    Not positive about your situation, but there are times when the cow pushes her insides out that they can be put back in and her opening is sewn up to keep it in but still allow her to urinate. After awhile, she will stop pushing and barring any infection, she will be fine and most can even be bred again. As far as putting a cow down, it’s not always that easy. Sadly I had to shoot a cow that couldn’t stand due to poorness and lost function in her legs. Amazingly it took 14 bullets to make her stop breathing. The first shot is the hardest. The following shots are actually much easier because they are mercy shots trying to put her out of her pain quickly. It shouldn’t have taken that many though. Still, very hard on the soft hearted. 😦
    The meat is affected when a cow gets hurt and traumatized shooting hormones throughout the meat and making it tough. Just a matter of how hurt and how long after the incident that she is put down. As for Ronnie’s comment….ALL cows get pregnant every year(if exposed to a bull) regardless of the intent. It’s not like the calves are just thrown away, rather they are raised and supply the entire world with delicious beef and other products we rely on. “Milk is not healthy” had to be the stupidest comment I’ve read. I also agree, if you can eat fish or any other breathing/living animal then a cow is just a bigger version of the same.


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