I woke on Wednesday morning to the sound of the school bus idling for way too long in front of my house. I knew, immediately, that it had to be shortly after 6 a.m. because the bus was here, and that is late for me to get up. I’m usually up before Morgan goes to school and I listen to her excited rattling about her day. (She loves school.) I peeked out my window to see why the bus was there for so long and saw Morgan’s shadow running back to the house.
It’s not uncommon for Morgan to forget something and the bus driver will wait. I got up and made it to the head of the stairs as she plowed in the front door, ready to see if there was something I could bring down to her from her room so she could hurry back to the bus. I said, “Morgan, what is it?”
She said, “There’s something wrong with one of your cows!”
I decided that this could not be true because I didn’t want it to be, and I came downstairs and said, “What?”
She was talking about a mile a minute while I was already grabbing my coat and she was throwing down her book bag. She had told the bus to go on without her. I found the spotlight and we went outside. Morgan had been walking down the driveway to the bus when she heard BP fall.
The creek in the back barn yard runs close to the fence line. It had been raining for days. It was muddy and slippery. BP is not agile to begin with. She had fallen near the creek, very close to the fence line. So close that her legs had slid beneath the fence, where there is a strand of barb wire. Last winter, the donkeys had been in the back barn yard and had escaped a few times at the creek crossing and a few other places. I’d had one of my hired men place barb wire along the bottom of the fence all the way around.
Every time BP tried to get up, her front legs hit the barb wire. She couldn’t get up without causing herself so much pain, it wasn’t worth getting up.
And I didn’t know where my wire cutters were.
Morgan ran to the barn and came back with trimmers. You know, like for trimming small branches. I told her that wasn’t going to work, but she tried.
Then we tried to move BP. Which naturally didn’t work because she weighs 800 pounds.
I ran back to the house and called my neighbor Jim.
This is the last photo I took until it was all over. Morgan, waiting for me by BP’s side as I came back from calling Jim. (Morgan is inside the fence. That’s my shadow on the fence in light behind me at the house, from the outside as I took the photo.)
Jim brought wire cutters and cut back the barb wire along that section of the fence. That’s when we realized she still couldn’t get up. She was so close to the fence line, and in such a bad position, that she didn’t have room to get up. She was scared and shivering, and I knew if we didn’t get her up, she was going to die.
We decided to flip her. You know, flip an 800 pound cow. So that she’d be facing in the other direction, with room to get up. Only we couldn’t flip her. Jim headed down the road for another neighbor. He came back with Andy and ropes. BP had her head contorted backward, so I held her head forward, for fear she’d break her neck if they flipped her with it that way, and Morgan pushed from her belly while the men pulled on the ropes tied to her legs. (There was no way to get ropes under her middle.) And she was flipped!
She struggled to her feet, with room now to rise. When she got to her feet, she was facing toward the house, and standing so that she was crossing the creek because she had stumbled forward. There is very little land on the side of the creek that borders the fence. She didn’t want to go forward. She wanted to step backward, get on the other side of the creek, toward the barn.
Glory Bee was there, waiting, watching, wondering WHAT IS WRONG WITH MOMMY?!
I could just tell from the way she was rocking back a little that this was the way BP wanted to go. But she didn’t try to make the step. Not yet. She stood there for a long, long beat, just shaken. The four of us stood there, waiting, letting her rest. It was so muddy, I was afraid for her to step backward, the way she wanted to go. We discussed pulling her forward by her halter, letting her turn around then go back across the creek facing forward. She seemed completely exhausted, though, so we let her stand there, resting for a few minutes. (BIG MISTAKE.)
Then suddenly she made the step backward, and she went DOWN, slipping and twisting, this time falling straight in line with the creek, IN the creek.
While the banks on the creek here are hardly high, with her body straight down on her side in the creek and her legs folded and smashed up against the creek bank, she was in an even worse position than before, with icy creek water beneath her body and no way for us to flip her to put her in a better position. This was when, for a moment, I lost hope. My cow was going to die here. Light was dawning, slowly, as I looked down at my cow. It was very cold. And we had no idea what to do next. We all just stood there, staring at BP, waiting for some miraculous idea to occur to someone.
Jim said, “We can tie the rope to her neck and pull her head up, real gently. If we can lift her up a little bit, she might try to stand. But I’m afraid we’ll break her.”
Sometimes I hate it when everybody looks at me and I have to make the decision. They weren’t afraid of breaking her neck–they’d have control of that. What we were all afraid of was that she was going to break her legs. What we were going to do was attempt to force her to scramble to her feet in response to her head being pulled up. We really couldn’t save BP. She was going to have to save herself. And she was in no position to do it, and already shaking with exhaustion and cold, stretched out in icy water, hemmed in on both sides by the banks.
We all stood there for another long beat, then I said, “She’ll die here if we don’t.”
They’d taken the ropes off her legs while she’d been resting, so now they put rope around her neck, and with every hope in my heart, I told them to do it. It all happened in the space of maybe 15 seconds and she was on her feet! HOW she got on her feet, I have no idea, it was a miracle. And since none of us actually thought this was going to work, we were all standing there stunned for a few more seconds then I said, “We have to get her out of here!” I was so scared she’d fall again in the slippery mud. No resting for BP this time. We pushed and pulled and didn’t give up until we got her away from the creek and onto solid, frosty ground.
BP, fresh out of the creek bed and a little the worse for wear.
Jim and Andy, relieved to not have been involved in a “cow-breaking” incident.
There was a LOT of baked goodies here by Wednesday evening, after the food photo shoot. I packed up huge bags and it all went straight to Andy’s and Jim’s houses. I am grateful for country neighbors–and my cow. Who is still alive.