Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch: Broken-Jaw Bozo

Early one spring morning, about 35 years ago, one of our neighbors called us. He knew we were feeding an orphan calf — with milk from our milk cow — and wondered if we'd like another calf. One of his cows had given birth the night before and accidentally stepped on her calf soon after it was born, breaking 2 inches off the lower jaw. The broken part was hanging down, held only by skin.

The calf's mother stepped on his head soon after
he was born and broke his lower jaw.

The bones were completely broken off, and most
of his lower jaw was dangling down, held only
by the skin, and his tongue was hanging out.

Our rancher friend knew we were softhearted, always trying to save even the most hopeless cases, so he wanted to give us the calf. We drove to his ranch in our Volkswagen, and the kids and I held the calf on the back seat as we brought him home.

The broken jaw dangled down, and the calf's tongue was hanging out. There was a large blood-filled swelling under his tongue about the size of a golf ball. The calf, which our seven-year-old son named Bozo, hadn't had much to eat. Our friend had forced a little milk down the calf's throat the night before, and that was all. The calf was hungry but perky and strong. One thing we learned early, in various experiences dealing with sick and injured animals, is that the will to live is more than half the battle. This calf had plenty of spunk, and we were willing to take on this challenge and give him a chance to live.

When we got him home, we realized the swelling under his tongue made it nearly impossible to get his mouth closed. I poked a sterile needle into the bulge in hopes of draining off fluid, but the blood had solidified. So we left it that way, hoping it would eventually resorb. The big challenge was to get the broken lower jaw back into place and hold it there while it healed. The logical solution was to tape his mouth shut. I used adhesive tape and went to work on the jaw while Lynn and the kids held the calf.

I could feel the broken, jagged ends of bone through the skin and tried to line up the broken part with the rest of the jaw. When I got the jaw shut, with the swollen tongue forced inside it, we taped it up, running several layers of tape around his muzzle, back around his ears and behind his head to hold it in place. The tape around his muzzle was tight but not too restrictive. It didn't shut off his air passages, and he was able to breathe just fine.

We used stretchy adhesive tape
and taped his jaw back together.

We weren't sure how long it would take for the bones to knit, but we knew young animals heal faster than adults; they have more bone-forming cells in their growing bones. We figured his jaw would knit together in about a week, since a lamb with a broken leg will start walking on a splinted leg in 4 or 5 days. But to be safe we left the tape on Bozo for 2 weeks.

To feed him we used a stomach tube, via his nostril. We often used this nasogastric tube to administer fluids to sick calves or to give newborn calves colostrum if they couldn’t nurse for some reason. This was before esophageal feeding tubes — that go down the throat — had been invented. Those wouldn’t have worked for him anyway, because they have to go into the mouth.

Feeding him by nasal tube (which goes into the nostril, to the back of the throat, where the calf swallows it as you push it on down into his stomach) meant Bozo wouldn't have to open his mouth at all while the jawbones were mending. As it turned out, we didn't have to "tube" him the whole 2 weeks, which was a good thing, because even though he wanted milk, he didn't like having the tube put into his nose three times a day. It was a hard job to wrestle with him at mealtime. He always greeted us with mixed emotions — not sure whether to run to us for dinner or away from us because he didn't like the tube. His reaction was comical.

After a few days the tape around his jaw stretched enough that he could stick his tongue in and out. He had complete control of the jaw (it all moved in once piece), so we knew the bones were mending. The swelling under his tongue was gone; I poked my finger into his mouth, and it all felt normal. Since I could poke my finger in, we thought we might be able to stick a nipple in.

Bozo was six days old by then and had never sucked, but we gave it a try. We used a lamb nipple because it was small enough to fit through the narrow opening allowed by the stretched tape. He loved it! He did more chewing than sucking, but by the third day he was nursing very well. After a few more days, the tape stretched enough for a calf-size nipple.

By the time we took the tape off, he’d lost the hair underneath and looked a little funny with bald patches, but it soon grew back. The jaw looked beautiful. One side mended perfectly smooth, and the other had a small lump about the size of a pea where the break had been. Our repair job was a success, and he grew up to be a nice big calf.

Andrea (far left) and Michael (right) always enjoyed
introducing friends to Bozo, their favorite pet calf.

He was a special pet, being fed on a bottle, and developed a delightful, mischievous personality. Our kids loved him. They often helped with the chores at feeding time and enjoyed feeding Bozo. And whenever they had friends come to visit at the ranch, they always took delight in showing off their pets and introducing their favorite one — Bozo the clown.

Heather Smith Thomas raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, Storey's Guide to Training Horses, Stable Smarts, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Your Calf, Getting Started with Beef and Dairy Cattle, Storey's Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook. You can read all her Notes from Sky Range Ranch posts here.


Debbie said...

What a beautiful and inspiring story. I was teary-eyed one quarter of the way through; by the end I couldn't hold back the tears for a completely different reason, joy for you and your calf! Thank you for sharing this amazing story.

Unknown said...

Fell upon this story and i must say thank you from the bottom of my soul because not many people would go to such lengths for an animal. being a veterinary student, it touches me deeply as i know that not every life can be saved but as long as there is hope, heart, will and determination there is always a fighting chance, and animals feel that. Very inspirational and motivational.