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Suzie Cow

Posted 7/13/2017 9:58pm by Samantha Klinck.

Summer Haven Horizon Suzette (or Suzie Q, or Suzie Cow as we used to call her) came to us in the winter of 2013. She was almost 6 years old, which is the end of the line for many dairy cows on conventional farms. Suzie didn’t come from a conventional farm though, she came from a local certified organic dairy farm up the road from us. This meant that she would probably live on to have a few more good years.  

She was sold to us as a cull cow. We were short on milk to feed our growing herd of pigs, so Suzie was to fill in the gap. Had we not bought her that day, she would have been shipped for beef within the month. So buying her was a win both her and the farm.  

When she arrived at our farm, there was the typical establishment of pecking order than took place with her and the other cows. Sometimes this can take all day, but with Suzie, it was done in about 2 minutes flat. This girl had a quiet authority about her, and she knew how to take the lead.  

Over the years, this beautiful cow was head cow within the Jersey herd and she kept the peace in the barn-yard. She was an easy milker, gave an abundance of creamy, sweet milk, and she just doted on any calves that came her way. If she were allowed, she would feed every calf in the herd, and still find a way to give us a few litres as well.  

As she came from a dairy line, she had only ever been serviced by AI, (artificial insemination). Last year, the extreme weather of the drought was making it hard to detect when she was in heat so we could have AI done. So, we took her down the road to spend some time with our Dexter bull, Apollo. She and Apollo fell in love. Never have I seen two cows interact like the two of them. It was incredibly sweet!  

She was due to calve this July, within days of her daughter, Buttercup. This Monday, Buttercup had a lovely heifer calf, and all the cows were there to welcome the arrival of the new calf. Suzie was right in there, acting as a second mother. She would have stolen that calf away in a heartbeat, given the chance.  

I had some concerns about the calf nursing off of Suzie. I didn’t want the calf to take the colostrum and start Suzie’ s milk production before the calf was born, or for the wax plugs that seal her teats to be removed. The wax is there to prevent bacteria from entering the teat, which could cause an infection. The immune system of a cow is most fragile around the time of calving.

However, every time the calf tried to suckle, she would wander all around Suzie (who was always right beside Buttercup, hoping to steal that calf away), and then find her way back around to her mother for a drink. Suzie was due to birth her calf any day, so I tried to not worry about it.  

Tuesday day and evening are always busy on the farm preparing for delivery the next day. I was up late harvesting veggies and herbs, and around dusk I went out to check on the cows. All was well. I was ready for bed towards midnight, only to be pulled from bed twenty minutes later due to our Livestock Guardian Dogs barking wildly at something. I went out to check, everything was fine, including the cows.  

The next morning I was prepping the last of the things for delivery, and then headed out to the barn around 6:00am. I brought with me some fodder for the cows, and everyone came running. Except Suzie.  

She’s ready to calve, I thought. Except she always goes and hides in the woods when she is calving, and she was bedded down in the winter pig area, which is dirty and dusty. It’s not grown back well due to all the rain we’ve had, so it’s still bare soil.  

When I got to her, my instinct told me I was looking at a cow with milk fever, which isn’t actually a fever, but a metabolic problem with the calcium levels in the blood. It usually happens after calving, but I figured if that calf had been suckling the night before, it might be the issue. I placed a piece of fodder in front of her and she turned away. I also suspected labour, but hadn’t seen her push yet.  

I headed back to the house to bring a bottle of calcium to inject into her to fix the problem. 500ml of calcium went in, and my gut again told me something was wrong. I called a vet to come as soon as possible, called Farmer Jen to let her know I might need her to do the drop off, and I called Farmer Alicia to have her bring more calcium from town.  

As soon as Alicia arrived, I gave Suzie another 500ml of calcium. At this point, my Suzie Q was moaning softly. The only other time I have heard a cow moan that particular way, was when they had mastitis. But, then I saw her push and thought she’s in labour, but too weak from the calcium imbalance. I also know that milk fever is painful for a cow, so perhaps that’s what the moaning was about.  

It seemed like too much time was passing with Suzie not improving, which usually happens within 30 minutes of the calcium going in. Farmer Lisa arrived wearing a pretty outfit and flip flops, ready to go out on deliveries, but she jumped right in with Suzie, oblivious to the dirt, or the manure Suzie had produced whilst lying there.

The litre of calcium had given Suzie enough strength to push out the water bag. The water bag is exactly what it sounds like, a big bag filled with fluid that comes out before the calf.

The vet arrived next, and did an assessment. She said there was mastitis in one quarter where the wax plug was gone, she confirmed the milk fever symptoms that were brought on from the infection, as the mastitis binds up the calcium in the blood. She wanted to pull the calf to treat it, then give Suzie a calcium injection right into her vein. But, having seen how quickly Suzie had declined in the span of a few hours, I asked her to please leave the calf and treat the cow. I suspected the calf was dead, and at this point saving the cow was more important to me.  

She ran the IV, and strongly encouraged a shot of Banamine to help with the mastitis which was systemic and causing her blood to be toxic. She explained how quickly this type of mastitis can kill a cow. We have dealt with mastitis so seldom on the farm, and we have never resorted to drugs. My first instinct as to say no, but knew that Suzie needed this shot, it was truly a life and death situation.  

I helped the vet pull the calf, which was also presenting with a shoulder in the wrong position. Earlier the vet said she was new at the job, but seemed to me this lady had pulled more than a few calves in her day, as we had that calf out fast. It was a beautiful heifer, but you could tell it had died a few hours before.

We retuned our attentions to Suzie again. We propped her up with bales of hay; a cow that lays too long on it’s side dies, and she was very weak.  

The vet gave me follow up instructions including when to administer medicine, and told me what to expect. By noon, Suzie had a drink of water, and tried to get up. She eventually did, and walked a bit then rested. She slowly made her way out of the winter pig area and over to the grassy pasture, where she laid down next to Buttercups calf. After a while, she would stand up again wobbly on her feet, then lay down again.  

She did this a few times, but an hour or so after she first stood, only 7 hours after I found her, I was having major doubts about her ability to rally and recover. She was getting colder and colder, and moving less and less. It was getting harder and harder to milk out the infected quarter. As long as the infectious fluid was in there, it was poisoning her blood more.  

Lisa arrived back from deliveries around 5pm, and we sat with Suzie in the pasture. At one point, Suzie gave a great groan and laid down. We were both sure that this was it. But she just laid there on her side, moaning. We held her and spoke to her, telling her what a good girl she was, sure she was going to go any moment. But then she sat up. It gave me a glimmer of hope, even though her infected quarter was growing cold and purple.

Farmer Jen arrived home from deliveries, and went out to see her. Jen sat down next to this ailing cow, and Suzie flopped her great head onto Jen’s lap and rested there.  

This sitting up and laying flat out went on until it was dark and the bugs came out. I was exhausted, and my eyes were puffy, and burning from all the tears. I needed food and water.

Making sure Suzie had water and food beside her, and a blanket covering her, I headed back to the house, setting an alarm to go check on her frequently during the night.

Sparky, our head Livestock Guardian Dog, had stayed close by Suzie for the whole day and night, seldom going more than 20 feet away. Each time I went out that night, Sparky was there. There have been numerous coyotes, bears, racoons, and weasels about this year, and I’m glad Sparky was there to keep Suzie safe, when Suzie was unable.  

My last check was just before 2am. Suzie had died. My girl was gone. Her beautiful heifer calf was gone.

I knew last fall that her breeding with Apollo would be her last. She was getting old, and I wasn’t sure she would have another calving in her after this one. But I was wrong. She didn’t even have this one in her.  

After crying over her cold, lifeless body in the dark, fighting off mosquitos, I headed back to the house. I tried to sleep, but couldn’t. My thoughts kept circling round, going over all the things I could have done, all the things I should have noticed. My thoughts kept going back to the fact my Suzie Q, my dear Suzie Cow was gone.

In the morning, when I went out to the pasture, Sparky was still sat by Suzie’s lifeless body.  

Today meant figuring out what to do with her body, figuring out what to do now that we are short a cow.  

Today meant figuring out how to get through the day with my eyes constantly stinging and my throat burning.

Today, we all spent a good deal of time thinking how fortunate we are that we have had virtually no problems with cows calving in all the years we’ve had cows here on the farm. That we’ve never lost a calf. That we have not had to deal with mastitis. I guess we were overdue for some trouble, but it still hurts.  

Today, I was very thankful that it wasn’t a child or family member I lost, or that was gravely ill.  

Today, I was thankful that she was only in pain a short time; recovery would have been very long and painful for her, and she would have never been able to nurse a calf again. I think this would have broken her big, loving heart.  

Today, Suzie is gone, but her daughter Buttercup is so very alive, and so is her sweet little calf; her calf that I still have to decide a name for.  

Today I noticed that Buttercup has begun to moo the exact same way Suzie used to.  

Today and everyday, you will be missed and never forgotten, Suzie Q.

Suzie Cow

Suzie Cow 2007-2017