Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch — A Tale of a Determined Hereford Calf, Part 3: An Uphill Fight

(The final installment in the story of George, continued from Part 2: A New Twist of Plot)
This is George in the summer of his yearling year, after his incredible survival,
against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Even though our hopes were raised when the sick calf was able to stand up the morning after we gave him intravenous fluid and medication, those hopes were short-lived. The worst was yet to come. George had suffered so much that he went down again and was unable to get up. 

We treated him for 25 days. Since he was unable to eat, we fed him three times a day with the nasogastric tube (a tube that goes into the nostril and down into the stomach). We gave him a mixture of water, milk, milk replacer, protein concentrate, sugar, electrolytes (everything we could think of that might keep him nourished and give him strength) and medication — about a gallon and a half at each feeding, along with daily injections of antibiotic.  

He was alert but very weak. His circulation was failing; his legs were cold. He didn’t move much at all. We tried a couple of times to support him with a sling from the shed ceiling, but he couldn’t handle it. He almost lost that defiant look in his eye. That’s when I started to think we were really going to lose him.

Lynn happened to see the man who owned George and told him that the other calf died and that George had been down and unable to move for 7 days in spite of all our treatments. The man said, “Well, kid, we sure pulled a fast one on you!” That retort just made us even more determined to save George.

We began giving George daily injections of vitamin B-12 along with all the other treatments and food. This may have helped him turn the corner. The shots made him furious and stimulated him more than anything else we did. He wanted to get up and charge at us. By the third day of shots, he actually stirred and tried to stand when we came into the shed.

Finally, he was able to get to his feet again. Great was our rejoicing, even though he charged at us whenever we came in the door. He began nibbling at hay, but he’d lost his cud, so we fed him some cud starter (probiotic containing the “gut bugs” he needed) in his daily dose of liquid food.

He was healing. We removed our unprofessional stitches and washed him up. He was drinking and learning to eat grain along with his hay. We no longer had to feed him through a tube. Mother Nature’s healing processes are remarkable, given half a chance and a bit of time.

We turned him out into a small clean pasture by himself. It was November by that time, and there was snow on the ground. George was starting to look like a calf again instead of a skeletal ghost. Later that winter we put him with some other steers and some young bulls. The company did him some good; he settled down a bit and wasn’t quite so flighty. But he never did become civilized.

By spring he was starting to grow and put on weight again. He was making up for lost time. We realized how great an accomplishment we’d made, saving his life. Seeing George alive and well and growing fat and sassy made up for the frustration of seeing him there on the range, left to die.

That next summer I wrote a story about George and all the challenges of trying to save him, and soon after it was published in a regional cattle magazine, the wife of George’s owner called us on the phone and asked if we’d like a bill of sale for that calf. I thanked her for the offer but told her we already had butchering plans. Lynn was upset with me for not accepting their offer, because that fall, after horribly low prices for years, big steers like George were bringing about 73 cents per pound, and we certainly could have used the money!

But as it turned out, George’s legacy lasted a bit longer than a year’s worth of meat. We had some friends who wanted to buy half a beef. They were a young family struggling along just like we were. They were raising a few Appaloosa horses and had a yearling colt with no spots (not worth much because he lacked the typical coloring). The mare we'd bred the year beforeto raise a foal that would have been a horse for our young son Michaeldied foaling. So we made a deal: when it came time to butcher George, we traded half of him for "Brownie"the non-colored Appaloosa yearling.

We would probably never gamble again trying to save someone else's calf; it took a huge amount of time and effort and some expense for medication, but it was a good experience and education and we were glad we did it. Good ol' George lived on, not only in memory but as a trade replacement for the foal we'd lost, and this story had a happy ending after all.
Michael at age 6 riding the young Appaloosa he named Brownie —
that we got in trade for half of George. Brownie was 4 years old when this photo was taken.

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 HorsesStorey's Guide to Training HorsesStable SmartsThe Horse Conformation HandbookYour CalfGetting Started with Beef and Dairy CattleStorey's Guide to Raising Beef CattleEssential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook

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