Monday, September 18, 2006

Dragged into the daylight.

Today I was going to write about holiday reading but events kind of overtook me and rather than going down the route of literary criticism I took the one to bovine obstetrics instead.

Take one heavily pregant Limousin cow with a calf twisted every-which-way inside her and a natural birth was unlikely. Brought down from the top field after a night in labour for some veterinary intervention she was a picture of patient resignation, awaiting whatever fate had in store. We provided buckets of hot water for the vet to use to 'scrub up' and I hung around - with camera - to see events unfold. (The faint-hearted may wish to turn away now)

The camera was to stay in my pocket as I got involved in dog's-body duties: holding a gate as a makeshift crush while the vet and Carl tried to turn the calf in utero. This effort - and it was a huge effort, took a great deal of muscle and long arms on the part of the vet and much pushing and heaving of the cow's flank on the part of Carl. Many visceral fluids of all shades and consistencies flowed. The soundbites were squelchy.

Eventually the calf was turned and the vet was able to pull two hooves into view. Two rear hooves - a breech birth - and thus more assistance was required. Time for The Calving Device.
Mum has by now had enough and is decidedly grumpy and no longer for staying still. In the ensuing fracas Carl slips into the mire and emerges 'clarted' down one side. Rather in the manner of mooring a boat the cow is tethered - secured with a 'twitch' and a halter - she's going nowhere. The Device, reminiscent of an instrument of Medieval torture, is applied. Two ropes attach to 2 hooves, the Device is braced and turned, corkscrew fashion, and the calf is hauled steadily into the world. And like a cork from a bottle - and with a squelch rather than a 'pop' it's lying on the ground, bloody, sticky and steaming.

Mum is given the all clear from the vet - no internal injuries - is released and can turn her attention to her calf - a bull. He has had his mouth cleared and been turned upside down to shake him into life. The cow's rasping tongue now works over his body - Heather said this gets the circulation going - breathing is established, he lies there steaming in the cool air and struggles to lift his head. He seems very big.

We watch mother and son for a while, already she is fiercely protective and we are careful to stay out of reach. Pretty wonderful to see this new life emerge even if the process was so fraught and bloody.

As I write this cow and calf are now up in the field, resting after what has been a traumatic morning for both. I'll try and get a picture of him later in the day when hopefully he'll be a little more photogenic.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: Daphne DuMaurier's 'Rebecca'. Brilliant, forget Hitchcock's movie and read the story instead. The pictures are far better.
And 'The Time Traveler's Wife' (Audrey Niffenegger). Once I'd got my head round the time traveling and who was where and when I found it absolutely compelling - and had to ration my reading in order to have something to read on flight TOM 5684. I thus found myself decidedly moist eyed as we began our descent into Liverpool, the last few chapters being poignant to say the least.

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