Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Cow, the Calf, the Crisis, the Kids and the Creator

The Cow

This story begins earlier this year when I weaned Siobhan's calf Wellie and dried her off.  The anti-self sucking harness that I used for her was not holding up because of the inferior quality of the surcingles, so I decided to try something called a Tamm Udder Support that I thought would be more efficient and more comfortable for Siobhan.  (Note:  Do not go buy this product!  Please read the rest of the story.)

I kept it on Siobhan for about 6 weeks until her largest quarter, the right rear, had dried off.  At that point I took the udder support off because I wasn't worried about her self-sucking.  When I noticed Siobhan starting to bag up early in May, I put her anti-self sucking harness back on and figured out a way to make it work despite the fact that the rings kept pulling out due to poor stitching.  I couldn't leave the udder support on in case she calved unexpectedly because it would prevent the calf from nursing.  I was surprised and a bit concerned by how huge her RR (right rear) quarter had gotten compared to the others, although it has always been bigger and produced more.

The Calf

On the morning of May 23 Siobhan calved unassisted and I found her just as Remy, her bull calf, got up to nurse.

I gave Remy the day to get as much colostrum as possible, but that evening I milked Siobhan out.  I got 3 quarts from the RR quarter alone.  After that it stayed more its usual size, and Remy seemed to especially favor nursing that quarter.  I kept Remy on Siobhan 24 hours a day, milking her out morning and evening to remove whatever Remy didn't take.

The Crisis

Then on the morning of May 28, the RR quarter was huge again.  It was hard and obviously painful to Siobhan.  I was horrified to get off-colored watery "milk" that was full of slimy, snotty clumps, and I was sure the dreaded Staph A mastitis was back.  After milking I called our regular vet, but he was out of town.  So I called the back-up vet.  He said they had a shipment going to the University of GA lab at 4:00 that afternoon if I could get milk samples ready to send off.  I had a whole box of Pirsue left, but I asked if he would give me Excede (the systemic antibiotic we had used for her last time), and he agreed.  I took the samples and picked up the Excede.  I started the RR quarter on the first of eight Pirsue infusions that evening and gave Siobhan the injection of Excede.   In addition,  twice a day Siobhan gets oil of oregano in her feed along with Vitamin E and a big dose of probiotics.

The next day, May 29, Siobhan's right side looked very strange without the usual separation between quarters.  It seemed to be a reflection of the degree of inflammation that was present.

Since Siobhan was getting Pirsue infusions, I put Remy in a stall overnight to allow the medication to work for 12 hours.  Siobhan was therefore very full in the mornings, even after Remy nursed.  So every morning I made a bucket of very hot water with essential oils (EOs) in it: tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender and peppermint.  I soaked dish towels in the hot water, wrung them out thoroughly, and held them against the two affected right quarters, as well as the left ones, which also seemed painful; I did NOT re-dip towels.  I used separate dip cups for the affected quarters.  Once Siobhan's teats were dipped, wiped off with a paper towel, and wiped again with disinfectant teat wipes, I massaged each quarter with mint balm.  I wore gloves, and I sanitized carefully between quarters and again after massaging.  Then I wiped each teat again, stripped and milked, massaged some more, sanitized again, and milked out everything I could.

In the evenings, since Remy had been nursing during the day, I omitted the hot compresses and went straight to the massage and milking.

I don't know what I would have done without our daughter, Kara.  From the time I discovered the mastitis, she came out and helped with Siobhan and encouraged me.  Early on she had to "tail" Siobhan to keep her from constantly kicking a foot in pain.  Kara was my faithful "poop patrol" that first week because Siobhan would poop and pee several times each milking, especially in the mornings.  Since I was spending hours each day working on Siobhan, Kara took over cooking and fed us incredible meals--a far cry from the TV dinners we would have eaten had it been up to me.

This was Siobhan's right side on May 30 before I milked.  Our milking sessions had a lot of prayer and tears on my part along with signs of pain on Siobhan's.  For the first time in her life she lifted a hind foot--frequently, although she never aimed a kick at me.  On one occasion she was groaning in pain as I massaged her udder, and I tearfully apologized for hurting her, knowing she couldn't possibly understand that I was trying to help her.  I knew there was something in that RR quarter keeping me from getting everything out.  Finally, after two days with hours of massage and stripping, a huge firm clump came out.

The RR quarter would look much better after massaging, stripping and milking, but the RF was worrying me, too.  Remy tended to ignore it more than the other quarters, perhaps because the orifice is smaller, making it harder to nurse.  But that quarter was staying full and firm, which was worrying, although the milk filtered clear.

And even when the RR quarter was milked out, there was a thickened area above the teat that seemed due to inflammation in the tissues.

Finally, by June 1, the RR quarter was looking almost normal after milking.

The milk was white with only a couple of small clumps in it, and the left side was nice and flaccid after milking.

I wish I could have used the Tennessee Quality Milk Lab as I usually do, but I wanted a test to go out as soon as I was dealing with mastitis.  TQML sends test results directly to me. Unfortunately, I did not get any results from the mastitis test until a week later on June 4, and then only via the vet.  He emailed the results as an attachment, which proved impossible to open.

Finally I emailed him asking what the result was, and he emailed back that the RR quarter "grew a pretty bad bacteria" that was uncommon and "a pure culture."  He said that I should contact an expert and suggested killing that quarter.  I emailed back to ask what the bacteria was.  He replied that the RR had "puedomonas (sic), resistant to every thing," that the RF "had a staph but it was treatable," and that the left side was clear.  Again, he suggested I talk to an expert.

At that point I began asking some Family Cow board and Dexter friends for help and advice.  The research I found on Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) said that it is untreatable and incurable.  I have since come to understand that, in my misguided effort to keep Siobhan from self-sucking, I almost certainly caused the Pseudomonas by putting the Tamm udder support on her, since it touched her teat and could rub on it.  Combined with the wet weather this spring, despite the aerated net, the dampness and the irritation of the teat end are enough to explain where this rare infection came from.  It's been an additional source of grief to me that I brought this on.  If I can warn anyone else from using an udder support, at least one small good thing will have come out of our fiery trial.  I did warn another cow owner who was dealing with a self-sucking cow, and she told me that her vet told her that to use the udder support would be "asking for mastitis."  How I wish I had known that!  But now you know it, so please don't use an udder support on your cow!

On June 4 there were no clumps in the PA quarter.  But hit with the double whammy of PA along with the Staph A apparently having returned, by Friday June 5, I concluded that Siobhan's situation was hopeless and that her time was up.  She was not looking good and obviously not feeling well, although she wasn't running a fever and she was still eating. With the antibiotics in her system, it would be impossible to butcher her, and I knew I couldn't possibly eat her anyway.  I realized I would have to find someone with a backhoe to dig a grave and find a vet to put her down.  However, there was nothing to be arranged over the weekend, and I needed to keep her from getting a possibly fatal overgrowth of the PA, so I continued to do everything I'd been doing to keep her alive and healthy enough to feed her baby.

After the result came back that Siobhan had staph in the RF quarter, I started Pirsue infusions in that one.  I was suspicious of the two left quarters and why they seemed painful, so I decided to start Pirsue in those.  I called the vet and he authorized two more boxes of Pirsue from Valley Vet.  I had them shipped overnight to be sure I would have enough Pirsue to get through the weekend.  Kara made a trip to Tractor Supply to get milk replacer and a bottle, and we came up with a plan for feeding Remy when the time would come.

The Kids

Saturday nights we usually babysit our grandkids, who are 6, 4 and 2, while Jim and Monique have date night.  Then Jim and Monique come back here to sleep, and we have Sunday morning together.  Jim asked what I wanted to do the night of June 7.  I said I'd love to see the kids, but that I kept bursting into tears throughout the day and I didn't want to upset them.  He replied that they're tough, and if it would encourage me they would come.  So I told them to come.  It did help to see the kids.  They are so delightful that they broke through my fog of grief over Kona and Siobhan, and I truly enjoyed having them there.

On Sunday morning Jim got up early with the kids, and when Kara and I went out to the barn to milk, they came along.  I told them they could stand up by Siobhan's head--out of the way of splashing pee--and give Siobhan some apple treats I had found.  It took at least an hour while I worked on Siobhan, and the kids stood there petting her and feeding her treats.  After quite a while, Kara observed that Siobhan hadn't pooped or peed for the first time on a morning since she had gotten sick, and I could see that she was looking at the kids, listening to their sweet voices, and eating up the affection along with the treats.

Jim asked me questions about Siobhan and explained to the kids how sick she was.  After a while he asked the kids if they wanted to pray for her, and they said yes.  One by one they prayed to Jesus to make Siobhan well, and tears streamed down my face as I listened to their sweet little voices.  Even the two year old prayed, and when Jim prayed, she repeated his words in a tiny echo.  Then Jim began singing:

"Soon and very soon we are going to see the King
No more crying there, we are going to see the King
No more dying there, we are going to see the King
Hallelujah, hallelujah, we are going to see the King."

By the time I finished milking (and crying) it was too late to make it to church, but I told Jim and the kids that I felt like I had been in church that morning.  Not only had they ministered to Siobhan, they had ministered to my hurting heart.  We went back to the house and they all packed up and went home.

The Creator

A couple of hours later my phone rang.  It was Dr. A, the vet who is the head of TQML, apologizing for not calling me sooner.  He had gotten the email I sent to Susan, who does the milk tests, and he wanted to know how Siobhan was doing.  Then he asked me about the results from the mastitis culture.  Our vet had finally managed to send me a copy of the results that I could see, so I opened it and read it to him.  And that was when we discovered a mistake I had made:  Siobhan had "Staph species" or "Staph sp." in her RF quarter, not the dreaded Staph aureus.  After all the time I've spent on Keeping a Family Cow, I should have realized the difference, but my brain had stuck on our vet's report of "a staph," which I took to be his version of "Staph A."  Dr. A told me that since Siobhan's PA quarter was soft and giving clump-free white milk, that if she is strong, he thinks she can heal herself from the Pseudomonas.  The Staph sp. was sensitive to Pirsue and Excede, and he said it's environmental, not contagious like Staph A.  At least three times, he said to me, "Please don't kill your cow needlessly."

When we finally hung up, I thought of the Bible story of Abraham being tested and told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac.  You may remember that Abraham had his son all trussed up on the altar and was holding the knife poised to kill Isaac when God stopped Abraham, showed him a ram in a thicket, and told him to free Isaac and sacrifice the ram instead.  I think I must have felt like Abraham right then--dizzy, confused, hopeful, amazed and not quite sure I could believe what I was hearing.  I believe that God had heard the prayers of my sweet little grandchildren because this was too much to put down to mere coincidence.

Instead of finding a backhoe and a vet, I was heartened to continue my efforts with Siobhan.  I still have questions and uncertainties about what will happen and what her future will be.  I hope Dr. A can answer some of my questions, while others just have to wait.  I don't know what God plans to do.  I know and believe that He can heal Siobhan, even from an infection that is medically considered untreatable and incurable.  Whether that is His plan or whether it is merely to give Siobhan a chance to raise her calf a bit longer and to comfort me that I gave her every possible chance, I don't know.  For now I'm taking things one day at a time.

By June 8, Siobhan's udder was looking much more normal.  The last of the Pirsue infusions was finished on June 12.  After allowing five days for withdrawal, I plan to collect milk samples on the 17th and send them to TQML.  Normally I have to send cultures on a Monday or Tuesday, but Susan has to be in the lab for the next two weekends, so I can send them whenever I want, allowing for a bit longer withdrawal.  Then I'll have to wait a week to know the results.

Meanwhile, God has reminded me that He holds Siobhan in His hands, that He answers prayer, and that I can trust Him with the outcome and the future, whatever it is.  


  1. Read it and yes I was here also. I hope she is still doing well for yoU!
    HEather Simplynaturalfarm

    1. Thank you, Heather! We're keeping on keeping on. :)

  2. Tears here... what a turn of events! Good for you and Siobhan. And such a touching story.

    One day at a time...

    1. Thank you, Treatlisa, and yes, one day at a time. :)

  3. After all your work on her, and her patience, I keep my fingers crossed for you both. Thoughts are with you. Carol K.

    1. Thank you so much, Carol! I'll let you know how it goes.

  4. Thank you for sharing an honest account of Siobhan' s and your trials. There is a lot to learn from this!

    1. You're welcome. I hope it can help someone else avoid this.

  5. I hope she gets better, I know it will be heart breaking if you would have to put her down.

    1. Thank you, Gordon, it really would. Not only is she our first calf, she's such a sweetheart and so patient through all this pain.

  6. Note to self - do not read Susan's blog while at work with an education summit going on!!!! :)
    Susan - I truly believe in miracles. If not for miracles, I don't think I would still be of this world. Prayers for you, your family and Siobhan!!

    1. Thank you so much, Fran! Please keep the prayers coming! :) I do hope I didn't make you gag in the middle of the summit, with those photos. :/ And some time you'll have to tell me about your miracle!

  7. Susan,
    Been off-Internet for awhile, but have continued to pray for your family. Your daughter, Kara, is kinda my hero right now! And God is so very good. Hugs to you!

    1. Thank you so much, Deanna, I truly appreciate the prayers! Yes, Kara has been a real hero! And yes, God is good. Hugs back!

  8. Susan, I am catching up on blog posts and just read this post. (through teary eyes) I am so sorry about Siobhan. I hope that she has healed and that things are going better for her. You must be exhausted and emotionally drained. It's so great that you have your family near you for comfort and help as well as God's love and guidance. I wish you and your family the best!

    1. Thank you so much, Janell. Siobhan's last milk test was not hopeful, but I'm giving her some time to see if she can fight this off. Meanwhile she's nursing her calf and he's growing well. It was very encouraging to have my family here. :) Now that things have quieted down, I'll do an update.


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