It was a dark and stormy night. Well, thank goodness not really stormy. But windy. And dark. Really, really dark. See, we have no electricity at the farm so when it gets dark, I mean it is DARK.
Most of the time I really like that – all the halos from dusk to dawn lights everywhere obscure the twinkling beauty of our rural night-time sky. It’s so beautiful on a clear night and without distraction from all those lights, each individual star gets it’s chance to shine. Isn’t that the sort of thing that makes people want to live in the country? I mean – I love the excitement of city lights too – when I’m in the city. But anyway… I wander.
Sometimes though, things don’t go so right and a little electricity is a welcome friend. Like the other night. While doing my evening dinner check on the cows, I notice my friend Sprite off by herself sporting some strange posture.
She was standing hump-backed and her belly was blown up like a balloon. When she turned around to look at me, I could see she was all frothed up with foamy drool from her nose and mouth. This was not good.
I’m trying not to panic. You see, cows are in many ways like tanks. Tough. Steady. Relentless. Except when they’re really, really delicate. There are a few maladies cows can fall victim to that can send a healthy cow from normal to dead in a matter of hours. This could be one of those times.
If you’ve done much reading about the future of the environment and climate change, I’m sure you’ve read something or other about cows producing methane gas. Well I can tell you, it’s true. These kids belch a-plenty. Cows shovel their barely chewed food into the first chamber of their stomachs where it is partially digested by fermentation. If you’ve ever attempted to make wine or beer, you know fermentation can produce lots of bubbly gasses that either escape or explode.
Well, Sprite was about to explode. When cows eat too much fermentation inducing food and are unable to release enough gas, they can inflate until they reach a point where the pressure from their extended stomach presses so hard on their diaphragm it causes them to suffocate and suffer heart failure. Not a pretty prognosis for Sprite…
All is not completely hopeless yet – there is one last desperate measure a farmer can take; puncture the bloated cow with a knife. Yes, you read it right. When all is lost anyway, it’s worth a shot. With a little luck, your hole will expel the gas and the vet can then stitch up the hole. Next, you pray the cow doesn’t get any nasty infection from your non-sterile, unskilled surgical misadventure and there’s still a fair chance all will be ok.
It’s not dark yet, so I run to the barn, get a halter on her and call the vet. I’m hoping I don’t have to do any pocket-knife puncturing maneuvers by myself. The vet is on an emergency call, so I ask my neighbor if he’s ever punctured a rumen. Which he has. Once, a gazillion years ago.
Sprite is now laying down and in some real misery but still breathing. So my neighbor comes down, we tie Sprite to the tractor and attempt to walk her to the front of the pasture to be closer for the vet. The vet calls and is running earlier than expected and tells us to wait for him to get there before we puncture anything (whew!)
It’s completely dark now, Sprite’s not going for this walking behind the tractor business, breaks her halter and runs away (bad news, good news). Following is complete cow mayhem. The whole herd is really excited about all this unusual activity; I have running, bucking, squealing and mobbing cows everywhere. In the dark it’s hard to tell which cow is which, and the tractor doesn’t have lights. I have to call the vet back and tell him the cow has escaped. It was reassuring to know he was on his way; now my only hope is an Actual Miracle.
I ran back to the barn again to get the quad which is more nimble, the cows are used to it and it has good headlights. I manage to find Sprite again, but of course Rocco the bull is right by her side and he’s a little wound up.
But, amazingly, Sprite looks normal size! I keep doubting that I have the right cow, but no. It’s true! She’s pretty normal. Amazing because she was one mouth frothing, humped up blimp just an hour before. Thank goodness! It seems all the excitement and running broke up the slimy froth that was preventing the gas from escaping. As puffed up as she was, I’m surprised Sprite didn’t squeal away into the sky like a punctured balloon!
But no, there she was, four hooves firmly on the ground, standing with her Spritzer when I checked on her again later that night. She just looked at me like I was crazy – she actually had the nerve to be EATING GRASS. Same this morning. I am feeling very grateful and a little disbelieving. Without a trace of evidence, did any of this really happen? I just can’t believe the dramatic difference an hour can make. First the hour it took Sprite to inflate, then the hour it took for her to deflate and completely forget all about it.
Apparently, Sprite doesn’t appreciate her good fortune and the rarity of an Actual Miracle, because early this morning she was right back to her gluttonous apple-trawling ways….