There are times when babysitting goes way beyond haying, watering, and milking and I wonder what I've got myself in to, like a couple weeks ago. I went over to run through the chore schedule with Linda and acquaint myself with the changes since the last time I'd babysat her livestock. One of her new Holstein bum calves couldn't help but catch my eye as its tail stuck straight out and his back was hunched as he continually strained. The signs of constipation are pretty universal. What concerned me was that it was evident the calf had been at it for quite some time. I asked Linda if she would mind if I went home and brought my constipation kit and doctored the calf. She said, "Sure".
As I drove home I chastised myself, 'Maybe, things would work out fine without your interference'. 'After all, Its not your animal. You really should butt out once in a while.' I couldn't though. The scene of the suffering calf kept replaying in my mind. Besides, I reasoned, I would be dealing with the problem the next morning anyway. By then, the situation would probably be worse. I'd seen the next stage of this problem. It wasn't pretty. The calf would begin having a hard time breathing and become to weak to stand. Foam would bubble forth from his mouth. Death would follow.
It took a surprising amount of warm water doused with a couple drops of Dawn dish washing soap to do the trick. More than I've ever had to use before. I administered it via a human enema bulb, small doses at a time. Then, I waited ten minutes or so for it to soften the blockage and did it again and again and again until I felt like the calf was turning into a water balloon. The stress from the fear of rupturing the intestines caused me to stop. In reality, as gentle as I was, the water would simply have flow back out rather than damage anything. But, my over zealous imagination sometimes over rules reason which whispered to me that the blockage must be far up inside the intestines.
I figured to give the water and soap time and explained to Linda that I needed to do chores but would be back shortly and maybe by then the herbal, digestive aid, pill I'd rudely force him to swallow would have gone to work.
The scene hadn't changed when I peered over the fence once more. The calf still had his tail way up in the air, his body hunched and pushing. Linda took her former position holding the calf by his halter and we proceeded to fill him with more fluid. When a strain a few minutes later expelled a small amount of softened feces, I could have cheered. Their wasn't any plan B and I don't know what I would have done if the enema failed to do its job. We were at the wait and see phase and so I went home praying that the calf would be much better in the morning.
Thankfully the next day, the calf was fine. I had no further problems with him or his black and white companion.
*******The story wasn't the same with Pumpkin's foal a few days later. He died in my arms. Their wasn't anything I could do to save him. He was born premature and his owners had spent the night feeding him every few hours. But, jobs called them away and so they asked if I could feed him a couple times while they were gone. The message was left on my both my answering machines as I had been off doing my own livestock chores. When I arrived, another friend of their was already there. He was doing his best to assist the little colt but experience wasn't on his side.
I took over. First, I milked the mare filling a baby bottle three-fourths full. The task isn't anything like milking a cow or goat. Equine teats are an inch long but since this couple has nearly thirty mares, I've had practice. Squirting a small amount of the precious fluid into the colt's mouth, I then stroked my hand gently downward along the front of his neck encouraging him to swallow.
When the bottle was nearly empty he had gained the strength to suck and afterwords could stand with assistance, swaying in our protective arms. I thought he had it made when he collapsed into a heap falling into an exhausted sleep for his breathing was stronger and he had a healthy dose of fluid inside his tiny body. As I covered him with an old towel to ward off the slight chill of the breeze, I expected to return two hours later to find the colt raised up on his chest.
Instead, it was evident when I pulled up and glanced out my pickup window, that the foal had begun the journey with death. Lifting his head, I called him back but by now he wasn't breathing and his heart had slowed. I began CPR but he did not respond and died in my arms.
All in all, it was a hard week and I was glad to relinquish my babysitting responsibilities and return to the flow of my own routine chores.
A filly is a female, baby horse.
A colt is a male, baby horse.
A foal is a baby horse.