Monday, September 13, 2010

Keeping Geneva

Glen and I had our first disagreement on Friday over whether a cow should be saved or salvaged.

Geneva was down with a case of milk fever late Thursday night. She was overdue and obviously close to calving, so, thankfully, we had been checking on her frequently. She got up after two bottles of intravenous calcium. Glen checked the position of the calf and found that it was still unengaged. We brought her in from the pasture so we could watch her more closely.

On Friday morning, Geneva was starting to show signs of labor (discharging, etc.). When nothing more had happened by late afternoon, Glen palpated her again to check the position of the calf and immediately called the vet. Geneva's uterus had twisted. (It wasn't twisted Thursday night.) We had heard stories of such cases, but hadn't experienced one until now. Dr. Kevin arrived within minutes.

A short while later, a beautiful, but dead, heifer calf was delivered. And, then, as if that wasn't enough to make for a bad day, Dr. Kevin found a large tear in Geneva's uterus during his post-delivery exam. In four years of working with Dr. Kevin, I've never heard him explain the seriousness of a situation so clearly.

We had three options, as he put it. If we did nothing, she would die within days from peritoneal infection. We could immediately try to salvage her. Or we could try to stitch up the uterus (blindly, via the cervix) and start her on an aggressive course of antibiotic therapy. There was a lot of uncertainty about whether the repair and treatment would work, and she would most certainly never reproduce again. Dr. Kevin did say he'd done such a repair on one other cow and she had survived, but the first couple weeks were rough.

For the first time I can remember, my vote was against trying to save a cow. Geneva's an old cow, who's live a good, long life, I said, let's not put her through hell. (I was the only one present who knows what the recovery from a C-section feels like.)

Glen wanted to try to keep Geneva. He has a terribly hard time losing cows and maintains that as long as the cow keeps trying, he'll keep trying.

Glen checked for himself to see how big the tear was and came up with the idea of repairing the uterus from the front, through an incision in the right side of her abdomen (much like a DA repair or C-section). Dr. Kevin thought it would probably work, at least to stitch up the front of the uterus. He thought he probably wouldn't be able to reach the back of the tear, and would have to stitch that through the cervix.

I conceded and the surgery began. Glen held the trouble light, Dan and I watched, Monika napped in the stroller, and Dr. Kevin scrubbed, sliced and stitched while Geneva stood there. Dan asked questions the entire time, the best of which was, "Dr. Kevin, is she going to die?" To which Dr. Kevin replied, "Well, I sure hope not."

To everyone's surprise, the repair went extremely well. Dr. Kevin was able to stitch the entire tear from the front. When it was all done, it looked just like Geneva had DA surgery. We gave her pain killers and antibiotics and crossed our fingers.

Later that night, when Geneva refused to eat anything — not even calf starter — or drink, the challenge ahead of us finally became apparent to Glen. I told him flunixin wasn't enough for her pain; she needed morphine. But that's not an option for cows, so he drenched her instead to at least keep her hydrated.

Saturday morning, though, I put some calf starter in front of Geneva and she took a couple of bites. Glen let out a whoop. And it's been uphill since then. We haven't uncrossed our fingers yet, but Geneva looks great. (I'm also knocking on wood as I write this, because I have a history of jinxing myself.)

For right now, at least, we're feeling pretty good about the decision to keep Geneva. And I'm glad I was out-voted. But we still have a couple of questions: Why have the last three aged cows to calve struggled with milk fever? (We've got everything but the kitchen sink in our pre-fresh mix.) What causes a cow's uterus to twist? (Was is the low blood calcium levels or something else?)

Time will tell for Geneva, but I have a feeling some of these questions might never be answered.

1 comment :

  1. Sadie,
    It was interesting to hear the story of your twisted uterus and also the milk fevers.
    We had a twisted uterus about a month ago. The vet came at 11:00 at night untwisted it and delivered a superb heifer calf. He(Dr. Magnusson) told us that most of the times with twisted uterus it is the calf's activity level and 90% of the time it is a big bull calf. Our cow is going well now as well, however she didn't have any tears.

    We have the same thing with milk fevers and have lost a couple cows to it as well. We are drenching everything (except 1st time heifers) when they calve in - whether they are exhibiting signs of MF or not.
    Hope this Helps!
    Karen (Ballou) Gorentz


Thanks for commenting! I appreciate feedback of all types.