Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch — Quasi, Challenge Calf of the Year

When raising cattle, some stand out as being challenges you never forget. Most stockmen try to have trouble-free cattle, but now and then the law of averages still catches up with us, and there’s an occasional individual who needs special attention. Every calving season we seem to have one or two calves that test our abilities and endurance — to save their lives, to treat them, or give them intensive care to keep them alive.
Bernadette and her calf Quasi
In 2001 the calf that had the dubious honor of being the toughest challenge was Quasi, a big bull calf who was born the end of January. Our son and daughter-in-law (Michael and Carolyn) calved their cows with ours that year, since they didn't have a calving facility of their own yet, after moving back here to lease the ranch next to ours.
In their herd of 100 cows, they had a big crossbred cow named Bernadette, and she always had big calves. Her calf that year was a big red-and-white part Simmental, and Michael named him Quasi. The calf was born easily enough, with just a little bit of help, but he had a lot of extra navel cord, several thick, white solid cords that had to be cut off. When the cow shed her placenta a few hours later, it had thickened white cords all over it — cords as large as snakes. Very unusual!
Over the past 45 years we've had an occasional calf born with extra navel cord tissue, but this calf also had a large hole in his abdomen at the navel area. Quasi was large and clumsy and did not get up to nurse. When our daughter Andrea helped the calf get up, at an hour of age, to give him a bottle of colostrum, he nursed the bottle eagerly. When he finished it, Andrea aimed him toward the udder and tried to put a teat in his mouth, but he was too clumsy to nurse the cow.
A short while later she was in the barn again helping another calf and noticed blood all over the straw in Bernadette's stall. Quasi’s navel stump was bleeding profusely. She jumped into that stall and tied off the bleeding vessel with a short piece of baling twine, but it ballooned out above her knot. She tied it higher, but it still ballooned, so she came to the house to get help. After looking at the problem, we called our veterinarian to come and examine the calf and suture the area.
Fortunately, the hole in the abdominal wall was only in the external tissues; there was no danger of the calf's intestines coming out, but the vet still felt it would be wise to suture the hernia. We also gave the calf some antibiotics, for good measure.
Quasi seemed weak and dopey and was unable to nurse the cow — perhaps because of blood loss as well as clumsiness — and by this time he didn't even want to suck a bottle. Michael and Carolyn fed him milk by stomach tube that evening and again in the middle of the night. By morning he was still weak and uncoordinated and breathing too fast (in spite of antibiotics given the day before), so they treated him for pneumonia, using antibiotics and DMSO, as recommended by our veterinarian. Through the next several days they milked out his mother twice a day and fed the calf by stomach tube every 8 hours, monitoring his temperature. They noticed that the calf always seemed to hold his head crooked.
Michael and Carolyn feeding Quasi
his milk via stomach tube
By February 3 Quasi was doing better and was able to get up and around, but he still had a fever of 104 degrees and labored, fast breathing, so they kept him on antibiotics. He was stronger, however, and would occasionally get up by himself and act as though he wanted to nurse his mother; he would wobble over to her and stand by her udder but never actually tried to nurse. He was too stubborn to suck a bottle, and they still had to feed him via stomach tube. Milking the cow daily was an extra chore; sometimes Bernadette would stand still in the stall and allow herself to be milked if her calf was standing close by, but often she would get upset and become uncooperative, moving around the stall. Michael and Carolyn then had to put her into the headcatcher outside the barn and tie a hind leg back so they could milk her without getting kicked.
Michael milking Bernadette in the headcatcher, to feed Quasi
the milk — since the calf was unable to nurse the cow
Progress was made on February 5, when they were able to get him to suck a bottle instead of having to use a stomach tube, and by the next day they were able to help him get onto a teat and nurse his mother for the first time. The cow was nervous, and they did the first nursings with Bernadette restrained in the headcatcher, but by February 8 they were helping Quasi nurse her in the barn stall.
Carolyn helping Quasi nurse his mother for the first time
Then the weather warmed up, and they put the pair out of the barn for the first time, into a well-bedded small pen with a good windbreak. Quasi still had pneumonia but was feeling good, and he was better off outdoors than in the damp barn. The bedding in the barn was becoming too deep and damp; the ammonia level down near the stall floor was not healthy for a calf with respiratory problems; ammonia can irritate lung tissue. With Quasi and his mother out of the barn, my husband Lynn was able to clean out all the stalls, with tractor and blade. We were nearly done calving by then but needed clean stalls for the final births.
Quasi spent most of his days outdoors during the next few weeks, but he and his mother got put back into the barn at night and during snowstorms. He still had a fever, but his respiratory problem seemed to be getting better.
Quasi was finally able to come out of the barn
and live in a small pen with his mother.
For several weeks the calf always seemed
to hold his head crooked.
On February 12 Michael took the stitches out of Quasi's navel area (the hernia repair). The calf was finally nursing by himself, at 2 weeks of age. Michael and Carolyn kept him on antibiotics a little longer, even though he seemed to be getting over the pneumonia, because he still had a fever. It's likely he had septicemia — a systemic bloodborne infection — and they wondered if the infection might have settled into the joints, because of the clumsy, shuffling way the calf walked. It seemed wise to continue the antibiotics until he was more normal, to prevent a serious or fatal relapse.
Treating him was a constant daily chore, but they didn't dare stop. It was like a poker game; you get so much into the pot that you can't quit. You have to try to win, rather than give up and lose it all. By the time Quasi was 5 weeks old, he seemed recovered enough to stop the antibiotics. We put him and his mama into a much larger pen with several other pairs — some cows that calved last (born in late February) and a cow with twins. The twins' mama, Bermuda Trudy, belonged to our granddaughter, little Heather, who named one twin Cauliflower and the other Broccoli. The cow liked Cauliflower best and often kicked Broccoli.
We kept them in a small pen the first month of their lives so they could both catch up with her to nurse. But Broccoli got smart and would nurse from behind, or right next to her sister, on the outside, so Mama wouldn't kick. We hoped they would all do fine in the larger pen, and they did. Broccoli and her sister stuck together and nursed at the same time, and Quasi adjusted to having more space. He seemed mentally retarded, but his mother kept good track of him, and we made a small calf shelter in one corner of the pen, where the calves could get in out of the wind and rain or snow.
Quasi had a hard time adjusting to herd life, however, and one tiny young calf delighted in picking on him. Though Quasi was more than twice her size, the little heifer would chase him around, butting him in the rear end, tormenting him unmercifully. Quasi never played with the other calves; he kept by himself and tried to avoid their roughhousing.
By late March the little herd graduated from the big pen and went to a large field on the lower end of our ranch. Quasi was slow at first to learn how to go into the brush to use it as a windbreak and also had trouble staying with the herd or with his mother. After one bad storm Michael and Carolyn couldn't find him at the evening hay feeding and searched through all the brush. They finally found him just before dark, down along a ditch. He was bloated and wobbly and hadn't nursed his mother all day.
Andrea helped Michael and Carolyn bring the pair up from the field and into the barn, since the weather was very windy and cold. They gave Quasi a big dose of castor oil by stomach tube, to relieve the bloat and get his gut working again (his digestion had shut down completely, and he was not passing any bowel movements) and also gave him fluid and electrolytes. By the next morning he was no longer bloated and was nursing his mother again. A few days later he was ready to go back to the field.
After Quasi recovered from the bloat, he did much better.
From that point on he did much better. He and his mama spent a couple of more months in the lower field. They didn't go to summer range with the main herd but stayed in the field with the twins and a few old cows. When I helped Michael and Carolyn round up the little group in early June to load into a trailer and haul to another pasture for the summer, he looked really good and was by far the largest calf in the bunch.
He got off to a very shaky start in life but eventually did well. Michael and Carolyn truly earned that calf; it took determination and dedication to keep him alive and take care of him through his long recuperation from early problems. Their intensive care made all the difference, and Quasi is a calf they'll not soon forget!
When Michael and Carolyn rounded up Quasi and his mom
in early June to take them to another pasture . . .
. . . he looked really good.
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

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