Life in the Slow Lane: "Elsie"

Hannah

Hannah

I got the call early last week. Elsie's new owner was in tears. "I had to let you know," Becky said. "Elsie's dying and I don't know why."

My heart sank. That stubborn, pig-headed, incredibly tenacious creature couldn't be dying. It just wasn't possible. I mean, Elsie hadn't just calved. That's the danger zone for cows. "What's happened?" I wanted to know.

Becky described how for months Elsie had done nothing but improve, learning how to tolerate being hand-milked, even keeping her milk to a steady gallon a day, despite that it was now almost a year since Hannah was born. Then, three week ago, they'd received a new shipment of alfalfa. Not their usual, but some from a different farm. All the other cows had loved it, as had Elsie at first. Then she stopped eating. Weight melted off her.

Becky said she'd tried all the usual treatments, then called the Vet.

Now, I have to preface this with the fact that there are very few COW veterinarians around here. Most large animal vets treat horses, not bovines. But the doctor came out and shot Elsie up with minerals, and all the other things Becky asked her to try. To no avail. Elsie was still off her feed. Then she went down.

It's bad when cows go down. Their very intricate digestive system depends on them moving to keep all the acids and enzymes in balance. If they go down, digestion goes to you-know-where and then they die.

Becky was certain Elsie was done for. "I just wanted you to know. I didn't want you to think I just let her die. Do you have any suggestions at all?" she almost begged.

There was only one answer to give. "Bolus her up with Vitamin C," I said. "Mix it with water and Apple Cider Vinegar, and shoot it into her mouth." My recommended dosage? 10,000 milligrams four times a day.

Becky was skeptical. "That much?"

"What have you got to lose? It can't hurt her at this point," I replied.

So, that's what Becky did, but only twice a day. By the end of Day One, Elsie was back on her feet. Halfway through Day Two, she was too strong for the fourth dose. After that, she was fine.

Coincidence? Maybe. I mean, maybe she was getting ready to come back strong. Maybe if Becky had done nothing, she would have been fine. But I don't think so. Vitamin C is THE miracle drug. It supports the immune system so the immune system can get its work done. By the way, humans and guinea pigs are the only mammals that don't manufacture their own Vitamin C.

Anyway, back to Elsie's comeback story. So once I got the news that Elsie was back to normal, I asked if I could come visit. As much work and hassle as they were, I miss my cows. Becky agreed, so off I went this morning. As I drove along the rutted dirt road that takes me into their farm/ranch, I saw Miss Els standing in the corral. She looked very good--not like a cow who had just had a brush with death. I smiled at that.

After sharing what's been going on in our lives over tea, Becky said something that floored me. "You know, I just can't let Elsie and Sadie"--they had renamed Hannah to Sadie--"be together. The minute they can reach each other, that heifer is on Elsie's teats!"

I sat up straighter, startled. "Still?" I demanded.

Becky nodded. "I think that heifer is addicted to her mother's milk,"

she went on. "I mean, they'll connect any place they can, even through a fence. And if I separate them too far, they bellow for each other."

I was stunned. Nothing had changed in 6 months! I thought it was just greenhorn me, unable to wean Hannah from Elsie. But here was a woman who'd kept dairy cows for more than 20 years, and she couldn't do it either. We went through the possibilities...that they were just really attached to each other, that Hannah should have been bottle-fed, that Elsie was traumatized by losing Dixie and Brighty a little more than a year ago and just didn't want to give up another one of her "herd". I reminded Becky that for three days after her herdmates had died, Elsie stood on their grave and bellowed for them, as if begging them to return. Or mourning for them.

Then I suggested that maybe Elsie is just a natural "nurse" cow, a cow who simply likes raising calves. I remember how nonchalant Brighty had been about her calves, and how relieved she'd been to have them off her by month 2, forget about month 3. Becky bottle-feds all her babies, to prevent the sort of attachment Elsie has for Hannah. Now, she's reconsidering. It would be nice to let a cow do the feeding in the middle of the night. However, Elsie has great dairy cow teats. For a hand-milker, that's hard to ignore.

By the end of our conversation, Becky was saying that Elsie was almost dry. Once Elsie's out of milk, she's going to let Sadie/Hannah and Elsie graze together. The timing works. Becky's new bull will be ready to do his work in 4 months, which is when Sadie/Hannah will be ready to become a cow and Elsie will be more than ready to have a new calf to make her own. Perhaps, if the two of them are pregnant together, then calve together, they might just bond into their own little herd. This is what I think Elsie wants. She wants her OWN girls, not these other cows that she didn't get to choose and doesn't really like.

Yep, that's my Elsie. Stubborn, picky, pig-headed, beloved, sweet, silly girl.

After that, Becky and I walked out so I could say "hi". Georgie had just been moved to the far pasture, too far to go out for a visit. Elsie and her precious heifer were in the close corral, separated by a cement wall.

Elsie watched me walk up to her. Her eyes were bright. Although she looked a little thin, to me she looked more sleek than starved. "She's putting her weight back on," Becky told me as I extended my hand to Elsie's nose. My former cow sniffed, then sort of sighed. I scratched her forehead like I used to. She took it for a moment, then I saw it.

That look. Her eyes narrowed. I could read the message with ease.

"You're the one who sent me here when I didn't want to go."

As she took a backward step, Sadie/Hannah stuck her head through the corral on the other side of the cement wall from her mother. Her gaze was fastened on me. She gave a half-moo, half-huff. I walked over and started talking to her as I scratched her forehead. I swear she grinned. She brought her nose up to mine and we snuffed at each other, just like we used to do. That was it. She presented her head and let me scratch under her halter, behind her ears...anywhere I wanted. The whole time she made funny little pleased huffing sounds. Meanwhile, Elsie is standing near the wall, her liquid cow gaze on me the whole time.

Am I anthropomorphizing? Turning cows into creatures with human-like abilities to feel and remember? Or is this just what cows are...creatures capable of feeling and remembering?

Just like the powers of Vitamin C, I'll leave that to you to decide for yourself. Just know, I miss my cows.

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