Our hedge apple crisis occurred one evening during the week in November when we worked cattle. Yes, just one more incident to deal with near the end of an already long day!
Below is a picture of a hedge apple on our property.
Unfortunately, there are many hedge trees in the timber on our property. Trying to keep the balls picked up or cutting down the trees are not practical options. So far, we’ve been lucky our cattle prefer grass and hay, even though we occasionally see a cow chewing on something that makes her foam at the mouth. It’s undoubtedly a hedge apple, but at least she’s chewing it, not trying to swallow it whole.
But this fall, our luck nearly ran out.
Late in the afternoon after a long day of working cattle, Bill left to take a trailer load to the ranch and Cricket and I set out on our evening walk. We’d circled the perimeter of the pasture and were headed to the water tank to get Cricket a drink when I heard a calf bawling non-stop and distressed. I detoured away from the tank and up a short hill to the bale feeder. Most of the cows were either at the feeder or nearby and the calves were having supper. One little calf was standing off to the side, bawling its head off, probably because it was hungry. I checked the ear tag, #216, and searched the cows for a matching number. No mama near the feeder. Then I remembered seeing a cow at the water tank.
The cow at the tank was the matching mama, Ginger. She was drinking so I gave Cricket her drink while I waited for the cow to finish, assuming she would go to her calf. Ginger drank for several minutes then just stood at the tank, not moving, apparently ignoring her bawling calf. My first thought in a situation like this is to try to drive the cow to the calf. Bill says to just leave them alone and they will figure it out. That’s really hard for me to do!
As I was debating what to do, Ginger lowered her head and expelled what appeared to be water followed by foam from her mouth. I’d never seen this happen. She drank more water, then moved away from the tank. I moved behind her and tried to drive her up the short hill to her calf. She took a few lethargic steps, then stopped and expelled more water and foam. I gently prodded her flank to encourage her to move and noticed her side felt hard, no give at all. I backed up a step and looked at her. Her sides were rounded like she was carrying a calf! I knew that couldn’t be possible.
After ignoring my repeated attempts to drive her, Ginger slowly walked away from the tank but not toward her calf. I decided to wait until Bill returned home and tell him about this situation.
After listening to my explanation, Bill said Ginger was bloated. The foaming at the mouth could indicate she’d swallowed a hedge apple and it was lodged in her esophagus since she couldn’t keep water down. He went to the pasture and found Ginger and her calf together near the water tank. He verified the cow was bloated but she didn’t seem to be in distress, so decided to wait until the next day to do anything. He would do some internet research and consult with a vet for guidance.
The next day was another long one of working and hauling. Bill checked on Ginger early in the morning. She was in the same area, still lethargic and ignored his attempts to get her to walk. Herding her to the barn and into the chute to deal with the suspected blockage would be impossible. Late in the afternoon after Bill left with the last load, Cricket and I headed to the pasture for our walk and to check on Ginger. Her calf was with the rest of the herd near the feeders and wasn’t bawling this time. We had assumed it was at least getting grain from the creep feeder and, hopefully, a little milk from Ginger or one of the other cows.
Ginger wasn’t with the herd so I checked the water tank—not there either. Knowing that in her weakened, lethargic state she couldn’t have wandered far, I searched hidden areas like tall grass, ditches and the creek. My hopes of finding her alive were quickly slipping, like sliding down a muddy bank to a bottomless creek.
And that’s where I found her—in the creek. But it wasn’t bottomless; there was only about a foot of water in it. She was lying down but had her head up. She was alive!
Since the bank on my side of the creek was steep and Ginger was nearer to the opposite bank, I trotted back about thirty yards to the homemade concrete-and-rock bridge, crossed over and doubled back to Ginger’s location. I wasn’t dressed for creek-wading, wearing tennis shoes and not my gumboots, so I grabbed a stick and carefully worked my way down the bank. There was a rocky area beside her where I stood and gently prodded her with the stick, trying to encourage her to stand. She either wouldn’t or couldn’t get up and after several minutes of prodding, I left her to go back to the house and wait for Bill. I saw that she was still bloated.
The vet Bill consulted agreed Ginger very likely had a hedge apple stuck in her esophagus that blocked anything from going down to the rumen and prevented her from belching which resulted in bloating. He advised Bill to cut a length of small diameter garden hose and remove the fitting on the end. Carefully guide the hose down the cow’s throat, around the hedge apple and into the rumen to release the gas. Then use a longer length of larger diameter hose to push the blockage down to the rumen.
When Bill arrived home he fashioned the de-bloating hoses. Then we gathered up the rest of the supplies: rechargeable spotlight and pruning shears to make adjustments on the hose pieces. We loaded the mini-truck, put on our gumboots and headed for the creek.
Ginger was in the same place I’d left her. We carried the supplies down the bank, I held the spotlight and Bill carefully waded in. Fortunately, we’d been having mild weather but both the air and water temperatures were cool—not a good night for a moonlight swim! Ginger was still strong enough to resist Bill’s efforts to guide the hose down her throat but too weak to get up and walk away. After several attempts, he finally pushed enough hose into her mouth to go down her throat. He continued to feed the hose into her mouth and shortly, we heard the hissing sound of released gas. This wonderful sound lasted several minutes and was accompanied by a delightfully obnoxious odor! Well, considering the last 24 hours and the alternative, a dead cow, it was delightful to us!
Once the de-bloating and dislodging procedure was complete, Bill tried to get Ginger up but she was still too weak from the ordeal. We left her, packed up the supplies and drove back to the house.
The next morning when Bill checked on her, she was up and on dry land, the calf was nursing and life was good! A couple of weeks later, Bill hauled this pair and four pairs of late-calving cows and their calves to the ranch.