On this particular unusually hot, late October afternoon, Jack was busy hauling and unloading our hay for the winter. Darryl was busy on the other tractor drilling in 45 acres of winter grazing in the cultivated fields that were dry as powder, and I was in town delivering some CFC Trailblazer players, running around trying to get some cottonseed donated from various farmers and coordinating the borrowing of a couple of peanut wagons to haul and store the seed in until we can feed it up.
Jack called me about 12:30 that afternoon to see if I would be home soon to check for calving. About midmorning, he had seen a cow in the back pasture walking around with her tail up in the air, but he had not been able get back to the pasture. Just the day before, we lost a really nice newborn heifer calf to buzzards. That may sound strange, but buzzards do more than just hover around looking for something dead. If they get hungry enough and find the right opportunity, they will go out and kill something for themselves and a newborn calf is an easy target.
Buzzards tend to hunt like a pack of wolves that surround their prey in large numbers and in an ever-tightening circle. When the mama cow chases off some of the buzzards from her newborn calf in one direction, the others jump in behind her and start pulling out chunks of flesh or skin. When she then turns and charges them away, those she just ran off jump back in for a quick bite off the other side. Within just a matter of minutes, although the mama cow is doing all she can to protect her newborn baby, the buzzards will have eaten out the eyes of the helpless calf and will have begun to tear away at its tail end.
It is a ruthless process to watch buzzards kill a baby calf and it is not something you ever want to see, but it happens more often than you think. We lost a calf to buzzards last year, and almost lost a couple more before we could get to the calving pasture to run them off. During calving season, if you see buzzards circling or perched in nearby trees, you better check to see what they are up to!
We knew the buzzards had zeroed in on one of our calving pastures, so whenever we know a cow is giving birth, one of us will usually stay with her until the calf is delivered and has been cleaned up and is up nursing. If we cannot stay with her, we will at least check on her every half-hour or so, just to make sure she delivers OK and she eats the afterbirth before it attracts more buzzards.
Within 20 minutes after Jack called me, I was in the pasture watching this really good 8-year-old Angus cow laboring to give birth. I thought for a while as I watched from a distance that she had an unusually large blood plug or part of her ruptured water bag was hanging from her vaginal area. As I watched and waited from 12:45-2:45 as she labored and pushed with all her might I decided to get a little closer to see if I could see any progress. When she got up, the dark, bloody looking plug was still there, just a little bit longer than it had been. I had seen that before and I knew this was not gonna be pretty! It was not a plug or part of the water bag at all, but was the tail of the calf! There was no way that calf was coming out butt first with all four legs pointed in the opposite direction.
As I began to get the lane ready to try to take her to the catch pen where the squeeze chute was, about one-quarter of a mile from where she was laboring, I called Darryl and Jack to come help me. We got the four wheelers and tried to slowly move her toward the lane. Just as we got about 50 feet from the lane she broke away and there was no bringing her back.
Because we had just been given some injectable tranquilizer by a friend who had gotten out of the cattle business, we decided our best option was to tranquilize her using our Pneu-Dart Rifle so we could get our hand on her and eventually try to either find the back legs and pull the calf breach or, better yet, to flip the calf and bring it out the traditional way. We hoped that, as the drug slowed her down but before she went down, we could again try to get her into the lane headed for the squeeze chute. That plan worked for the entire quarter mile except for last 30 feet – when she went through the electric fence and tore out into a pasture with the 3-year-olds.
Too late to back out now! We were not going to get her in the squeeze chute and she is surely going to die unless we do something. I darted her a third time and then walked up to her and gave her another dose of tranquilizer by injection. She must have been an alcoholic because a normal drunk could not stand up after being so heavily sedated. We ended up choking her down with a lasso and tying her feet together so she could not get up.
I did all I could do for about almost an hour and a half, but could not turn the calf nor could I get the calf’s back hooves pulled around straight enough to pull the calf backward. At times, Darrell and I both had our arms up to our armpits in the same orifice – one pushing the butt of the calf forward while the other tried to pull a leg around to clear the pelvis. By dark, both of our arms suffered from complete muscle burnout, but we had done all we could and there was nothing else to try. If we could have gotten her in the chute where she could have stood up, gravity would have been our friend in our efforts to reposition the calf, but lying on her side, we just could not flip the calf. They were both dead the next morning.
Just last night at about 10 as I was trying to write this devotional, Jack called me about a heifer that was having trouble having her calf. We had been keeping an eye on her since dusk, but she just was not able to pass the head of the calf – partly because her water had never broken, causing too much pressure in the birth canal. About 11 p.m. we finally got her in the chute. After we broke her water and got the OB chains on the calf, it was an easy pull, but she would have never passed it on her own without the water breaking. The cow and the red bull calf are both fine this morning.
I am not sure what the point of this story is devotionally, but I am tired and just taking time to reflect. There are always wars raging and challenges in this life. However, the Holy Spirit is reminding me as I write that God is indeed a Good Shepherd who loves and cares for each of His sheep. He knows us each by our own name. He loves and cares for us as individuals. He has a unique plan for each of our lives and He does all He can to help us, no matter what we are going through. He never gives up on us. He is always calling us, not wanting anyone to perish. Yet, we often are uncooperative or unwilling to let Him do what needs to be done in our lives, things only He can do. Some of our problems are out of our control – just a part of living in a fallen world. Others are brought on by someone else or are the consequences of our own bad decisions. Regardless, He has promised to see us through them all and to never leave us or forsake us.
"‘Shall I bring to the time of birth, and not cause delivery?’ says the Lord." (Isaiah 66:9, NKJV) God promises He will do in, for and through us everything He has promised. All we have to do is surrender our will to Him, trust Him and leave all the consequences to Him! He is faithful and His love is unconditional.