Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Twyla's Tale of Woe

It's always the best ones that this happens to. Ask anyone who has dealt with livestock - they'll tell you it's true. Tuesday morning was the start of an easy day. Only one more ewe due, and she showed no signs of wanting to lamb anytime soon. There'd been a light snow that morning, and I only had a few errands to run in the morning down in JC, but first, there was the packwalk to be done, dogs to be fed, lots of pretty snow pictures to be taken, and general nose count to make sure no lambs had gone AWOL during the night. I saw Twyla in the barn, but that wasn't unusual; all the moms kind of spend a lot of time in there, a quiet place to hang out, maybe catch up on some sleep or chow. I took a bunch of pictures, then went back to look in on Twyla's twins. And that's when the day took a horrible turn for the worse. Twyla was lying down, and something was clearly wrong with her. The little ones were yammering for chow, and kept after her one exposed teat to no avail. Twyla's always had milk to spare and has never had a problem feeding her little ones. I went into the pen, knelt next to her and she barely even flicked an ear. She's a good girl, very nice, but definitely not a pet, and excepting when she was a newborn herself, I had never really handled or petted her except during foot trims, wormings and lambings. So for her to not move was not a good sign. I got no milk from either teat, but her bag, besides being empty, wasn't warm or lumpy or painful. She staggered to her feet and then fell right back down again. Staggers! That was the term dairymen used to use for the dreaded milk fever, or in proper terminology, grass tetany. This wasn't just a vet call; this was a 911 vet call, a dire emergency. Tetany is fatal in far too many cases; death can come within a few hours of the onset of symptoms, and I had no idea how long she'd been down. However, sometimes, miracles do happen - Dr. Vanegas and his team of student vets from OSU just happened to be on their way out to Don's to do some vaccinating on his cows. I got ahold of him, told him what was going on, and he immediately said he'd be there within minutes. I then called Donna to let her know what was going on and that the vet would be at our place first, and she said she'd tell Don, who was bringing up the cows with Jan at that moment. Dr. Vanegas already being on his way out for Don's ranch call probably saved Twyla's life - he might not have made it in time coming from Corvallis. I scooped up the twins and hauled them to the house and put them in Sybil's pen and left Ho Dog guarding them. Poor Dale was on an important business call, and he had Ho Dog howling and the twins yelling downstairs. I truly wonder what the people on the other end of the line thought about all that.

The truck arrived, the students piled out, and in short order Twyla had given an urine sample, gotten her neck shaved, given a blood sample, and had a catheter sutured into her jugular vein and a bag of fluid and minerals started. She was severely dehydrated and her kidney function was all but non-existant, and what urine she managed to get out was full of blood. She barely tried to resist the entire time, and after the bag of fluid was gone, it became a waiting game. The options were that she would pull thru, we would put another bag into her, or I would be digging a big hole in the pasture. For good measure, Dr. Vanegas gave her a dose of antibiotics, and we all watched and waited. We settled her down in the hay, with a pile of sweet hay in front of her and a pan of chicken scratch (which she loves) beside her in hopes of enticing her to eat, which would be a most excellent sign. As devastating as tetany is, recovering from it is even more remarkable for how quick it happens. If she didn't start to improve within an hour, another bag of fluid would be given, but each time that happens, the chances of a fatal heart attack increase dramatically, due to the amount of calcium in the fluid. The entire time she was being given fluids the doc and his students monitored her heart closely, ready to pull the plug the minute things went south, but luckily, nothing happened. Dr. Vanegas and his students started cleaning up - the lambing pen looked like triage at a train wreck - putting things away and loading up the truck. I kept an eye on Twyla while this was going on and suddenly, she grabbed a mouthful of hay and started to munch. I stuck my head out the barn door and yelled 'she's eating!', and everyone drew a deep breath of relief. Not quite out of the woods yet - Dr. Vanegas called constantly during the day to make sure things were going better and then came by later in the afternoon to see how she was doing - but all day long she improved, until by nightfall she could stand without staggering and was eating well and constantly. I had been bottle feeding the lambs, who were not thrilled about the whole thing in the beginning but soon figured it out, but Twyla had gotten antsy about them not being there, so I put them back in with her. They were happy to be back, but still no milk to be had, so one last, sticky round of bottle feeding for the night, and then it was bedtime for everyone. I locked everyone out of one part of the lambing pen so that they could all come in from the cold - mid 20's this morning - and not trample all over her, and she could have the company of her flock to keep her calm and happy.

This morning, she was up, solid on her feet, and still eating. Her ears were up and eyes bright, and when Dr. Vanegas called, I was happy to report that he didn't need to come by here first thing - Wednesday the OSU clinic vet spends the day down the road from us as Van Beek's dairy - and he said he'd be by after Van Beeks to take out the catheter and give her another dose of antibiotics. The students had a bit of a time catching her, always a good sign, and the lambs were getting milk now. She was almost back to normal. Later in the afternoon, I opened up the door and let her out, and she calmly stepped out and started grazing, just like the whole thing had never happened. Except for the shaved neck, you wouldn't know a thing was wrong with her.

I just can't say enough good about the OSU team. From the students to Dr. Vanegas, they worked to save Twyla's life like she was their own ewe. We were in almost constant communications the entire time, and the fact that my best ewe is now happy and back to her normal self is a testament to how good these guys really are. Thank you, Dr. Vanegas and team, for saving me from digging a big hole in my pasture yesterday.

Twyla sports a snazzy collar, protecting the catheter, hours after she nearly died from grass tetany

Baby livestock in the house is never a good sign

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a new miss! Glad everyone turned out safe.