Monday, August 12, 2013

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch — A Tale of a Determined Hereford Calf, Part 2: A New Twist of Plot

(Continued from Part 1: Finding George)
This is George in the summer of his yearling year, after his incredible survival,
against seemingly insurmountable odds.

In late September of 1971 while riding range, I found a stray calf that was too sick to travel very far. After bringing the calf partway down the creek canyon, I telephoned the sick calf’s owner to tell him where the calf was. I thought no more about it until 3 days later when the man called us back and said he didn’t have time to go check on that calf. He told us that if the calf was still alive and we wanted to go get it and doctor it, he’d split the proceeds from it — if it lived. At that point it had been 6 days since I first saw the calf; I figured it would be dead after that length of time.  

Lynn and I were very busy trying to finish up our haying, and we had assumed the man had already done something about that poor calf. We couldn’t imagine a person not caring enough about his cattle to at least go check on it. If we could have doctored the calf earlier, bringing him home to treat him might have been an acceptable gamble.  

Then fate stepped in. The range neighbor we’d gathered some cattle for told us he was still missing a big steer. He was sending a couple of his hired riders up to the range to look for it. Our interest perked up again; we thought there might be a slim chance that this sick calf could be the one they were looking for, if it had lost its ear tag. So we drove up the creek with the two men, to check on that calf again and see who it actually belonged to, living or dead.

When we got up to the drift fence gate, we were astonished to find not one calf, but two. George was in a little meadow across the creek, still alive, but lying out flat and barely conscious. The other calf looked a lot better; he was fat and healthy looking but a bit staggery, with his rectum starting to prolapse.  

We roped the first calf, and he stumbled into the creek, fell down, rolled back his eyes, and just lay there.  He didn’t even try to get up again. When we went to get George, he roused himself from his semicoma and tried to stand up and charge at us, but his hind legs wouldn’t function.

We checked the brands on the calves (and had to feel down through the hair to find George’s brand) and discovered that both calves belonged to the man who didn’t have time for George.

The next problem was getting them home to treat them. This involved dragging them up a steep bank this side of the creek. We had to pull them up the last part with the Jeep and a long rope down over the bank.  The calves were big, and even the four of us couldn’t pull them up by hand. It took our combined efforts to get them loaded into the Jeep. They lay there without trying to get up, totally filling the Jeep bed.

Our vet (there was only one vet in the county at that time) was gone, on vacation to England. His receptionist was “holding the fort” at the clinic, and when we called her she told us to go ahead and bring the calves in, and she would help us do whatever we could do for them.

We hauled them in to the clinic and washed and cleaned up their prolapsed rectums. George’s was a real mess because it had been out for at least 6 days and was dried out, and the flies had been at it. We replaced the prolapses and stitched across the rectums to hold them in. We gave both calves injections of antibiotics and gave George some IV fluids because he was so dehydrated.

Then we hauled them home and put them in a little shed, gave them boluses to treat the coccidiosis, and fed them both some fluid, protein, and electrolytes through a nasogastric tube. By 11:00 that night the “good” calf was dead, and George had his head up, looking around. It was incredible. The veterinarian’s receptionist wouldn’t have given two cents for George, but she really thought the other calf would survive.

We were similarly surprised, except that deep down I suspected that ol’ George wouldn’t give up without a fight. The other calf simply didn’t have as strong a will to live. He simply gave up. George never did.  The fact he’d lasted this long under such adverse circumstances proved to me that he still had a bit of life left in him yet. The next morning he was on his feet and tried to charge at us when we came in the shed door.

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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