Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The attack

Last July, I was mauled by a fresh cow while checking for newborn calves out in our pasture. I wrote this piece a couple days after the attack. I'm sharing it here now as part of my psychological recovery.

Strong bones and cell phones

Every so often – thankfully, not very often – something happens that makes you question your faith and give thanks, both at the same time.

One of those somethings happened to me last Friday.

I had just returned home from picking Dan up from summer camp in Palisade. I had shortened a visit with my sisters so that we could get home in time for chores. Glen’s back had seized up earlier in the week and he was moving pretty slow.

I said I would fetch the dry cows from pasture so that we could get a fresh heifer sorted out and into the barn.

I had a quick snack, changed into my barn shorts and a cut-off t-shirt, and headed out to the dry cow paddock.

As soon as I crested the first hill, I could see the dry cows grazing atop the second hill. I headed in their direction until I spotted a black cow lying alone by the second pond. “That would be Goldfish,” I thought to myself.

I changed direction to go see what Goldfish was doing.

As I approached, Goldfish stood up and – sure enough – there was a newborn calf lying in what had been her shadow.

I called Glen to tell him there was another new calf to pick up. There had already been one heifer calf right away that morning and a set of twin heifer calves born while I was gone picking Dan up. Four calves in one day might be a record for us; four heifer calves would certainly set a record.

I walked up to the calf and picked up its hind leg to see if it was a heifer calf or bull calf.

The next thing I remember is being on my back, underneath Goldfish, hearing her snorting and seeing her head and front hooves coming at me. I remember screaming at her to stop. I remember feeling pain and disbelief, as in “I can’t believe this is really happening.”

And then there was a pause in her attack – long enough for me to scramble to my feet and run.

I made it about 20 feet before the pain in my right leg wouldn’t let me go any farther. Thankfully, Goldfish stayed by her calf. As soon as I stopped, I could hear the engine of our 4-wheeler and knew Glen was on his way.

By the time Glen reached me, the pains in my right hip and right shin were leagues beyond anything I’ve experienced before. Glen noticed the instant bruises on my shoulder and collarbone and we decided I needed to go to the emergency room.

I knew I couldn’t get on the 4-wheeler, so Glen called our neighbors and asked them to come with their truck. Then he called his mom and asked her to meet us in the yard. While we waited, he took the stick we keep on the 4-wheeler and got my phone and sunglasses from where they fell next to Goldfish’s calf. He also checked the calf – it’s a heifer.

Glen, his mom, and our neighbors ended up making a stretcher out of a sheet of plywood and a bed sheet. They rolled me onto the plywood and slid the whole works into the back of his mom’s van.

A couple hours, a few scans, and a few x-rays later, I hobbled out of the emergency room with nothing more than a dozen nasty bruises and a few scrapes.

During those hours, I couldn’t stop the attack from replaying, over and over, in my head, but it helped fill in some of the gaps in my memory.

I know that Goldfish had been to my right when I walked up to the calf. Judging from the pain in my hip and the deep bruise there, I suspect she rammed me just as I bent over and first touched her calf, with her poll driving into my hip.

Based on the pattern of bruises I’m sporting, I believe I crashed onto my left shoulder and elbow. Goldfish then stepped on my lower legs as she continued forward, leaving hoof-shaped bruises on both calves. The only bruises I can’t figure out are the ones on my right collarbone, chin, and the back of my head. At some point while I was tumbling around, I must have caught a flying hoof or poll.

Those hours on the stretcher were also filled with lots of questions, anxiety, and lingering disbelief. Why this cow? Why now?

I have walked up to a cow and her newborn calf probably 1,000 times in 30 years of working with dairy cows. I know that it’s not unheard of for fresh cows to be protective, but I’ve never witnessed anything like this personally.

Furthermore, Goldfish had shown no signs of concern or aggression as I approached. Did she flip out because I was wearing a hot pink shirt? Do bovines respond to hot pink the same way they respond to red? Was she irritable because of the hot weather? Did she flip out because I was talking as I walked up?

But if I hadn’t been on the phone with Glen, nobody would have heard me scream…

Why in the pasture? Our pasture is my favorite place to be. Walking out to bring the cows in is my favorite job. I feel so much peace when I’m out there. To be attacked in my happy place is the ultimate addition of insult to injury.

Another recurrent thought I couldn’t stop was: “Maybe I shouldn’t be milking cows anymore. This is getting to be too dangerous.” Goldfish’s attack was my fourth cow-inflicted injury in two weeks. I didn’t exactly need something like this to make me question my dedication to dairy farming.

Then the “what if” questions started and those were the worst.

What if I hadn’t been able to scramble away?

What if I had stayed up north to visit longer and Glen had found the calf? He had been home alone.

What if it had been one of the kids who went out to bring the dry cows in? We send Dan and Monika to check dry cows and/or bring them in from pasture all the time.

These questions and thoughts – and the flashbacks – are proving hard to shake.

But, for now, I’m trying to focus on the words of one of the emergency room nurses: “You sure are lucky. Somebody up above must have been watching out for you.”

And I’m choosing to be thankful. For caring family and good neighbors. For skilled doctors and nurses. And for strong bones and cell phones.

Originally published in the Dairy Star.

1 comment :

  1. I'm thankful too, that you are "ok" and that those other scenarios were not the way things happened! In our years of dairy farming, I've had some cow-inflicted injuries, and they stick with you, for sure. We have so many things to be thankful for, and focusing on and naming those things are important. Much admiration for a dairy farm's not for the faint of heart! :)


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