When Bill made his morning rounds to check for new calves he found Cow #17 frantically fussing and pacing at the edge of the pond. Bloody mucous streamed from her rear end, indicating she’d likely just given birth. Bill drove closer and looked to where the cow’s attention was riveted, fearing what he expected to see—a newborn calf in the pond, its head barely above water.
The calf was bawling piteously, head thrashing from side to side, its little hooves apparently mired in mud. Bill slammed the truck to a stop, bailed out and waded in, fully clothed and wearing gumboots. He struggled to free the four little hooves from the sucking mud, then lifted and carried the slimy, squirmy calf out of the water and several yards safely beyond, followed by the distraught mama. The poor little thing was weak and wouldn’t have lasted much longer.
Bill, his gumboots full of pond water, sloshed back to the truck and returned with his ear tagger and a syringe. While he tagged the calf and gave it an injection to prevent scours (severe diarrhea), he discovered the calf was a heifer.
So, how did the calf end up in the water? Maybe Cow #17 heard about the water birth method and how it helps ease pain and even speed up the labor process. The warm pond may have seemed like an ideal birth pool. She must have overlooked the part about getting out of the water before delivery. Water delivery may work with human births when the newborn is immediately removed from the water, but a cow would be unable get her calf out by herself.
Bill’s theory, and the most likely scenario, was the cow delivered near the pond’s edge. When the calf made her first wobbly attempt to stand, she may have toppled into the water. Frightened, she likely struggled and became stuck in the mud. Her head was still slick with afterbirth indicating the cow hadn’t finished cleaning her yet. Immediate post-birth cleaning is imperative to remove any pieces of birth sac clinging to the calf’s face, help stimulate breathing and nudge the calf to its feet.
After a few minutes of observation to be sure the calf would recover, Bill returned to his rounds thoroughly soaked! Not that the water was deep. It wasn’t or the calf would have drowned. But he was soaked from carrying the wet, slimy calf. Later when he told me about the adventure, he admitted that removing his clothes, except for underwear, never occurred to him. At least his jeans and shirt would have been dry! He was also glad this didn’t happen later in the fall, when the air and water temperature could both have been much cooler.
(I reminded Bill of another spontaneous pond swim years ago when he took our Golden Retriever at that time, Brandy, on her first duck hunt in the winter. He had trained her on water retrieves using a training dummy and she loved those exercises! But when Bill shot a duck and it dropped into a pond, she dog-paddled out, sniffed, then circled and returned to the bank, leaving the dead duck to bob in the ripples of her wake. He sent her several times with the same result—no duck. Finally, he shucked off his clothes down to skivvies, swam out and retrieved the duck. No, he didn’t carry it back in his mouth to show her how it’s done! More training, using a live duck with restraints to keep it from flying, followed; and once Brandy caught on, she loved jumping ponds with Bill!)
Cow #17 and her lucky little calf are now doing great!