Miracle’s Do Happen
Darlene Aldridge, D.V.M.
In March of 2001 we had one of those infamous black weather days hit our area. A wet cold front swept in town from the North just as a low pressure cell from the Gulf decided to blow ashore. It rapidly turned into one of those days that turn into night. The sky was black and the rain was blowing sideways. My friend, Judy, and I were returning home after delivering some calves to a new breeder when this mess hit.
John called me on the cell phone to check on us. We were fine, I informed him – just driving slowly and being careful. He was headed home, also, he said and should be there within the hour.
I called Armando, our right hand man at the farm, to see what the story was there. I couldn’t hear him talk on the cell phone for all the noise in the background. He did manage to convey that he was in the barn and didn’t have plans to leave. Then he told me something that sent my heart into my throat – our great cow, CK Overwhelming Signal, has just had her calf in the front pasture. This was an “AI” calf sired by VJ Tommie (Unlimited) that I was eagerly awaiting. Armando said the calf had just been born when the storm hit. He didn’t know what condition it was in. I told him I would be home as soon as I could.
When Judy and I got into the Cypress area the very worst of the storm had passed. It was still raining very hard but showing signs of easing. I began to see great white sheets lying beside the road. “Look, Judy, some truck must have lost a load of canvas or something.” We looked closer. It wasn’t cloth after all, but great mounds of ice piled everywhere – a terrible hailstorm had just gone through the Cypress area. As we got closer to the house the destruction of the storm worsened. Trees were down everywhere. The area was flooded with the ditches filled and water backed up everywhere.
It was still raining when we pulled into our drive. I wasn’t quite prepared for the site. The top of a good size oak tree was laying in the drive. Problem was we didn’t have an oak tree growing there. We found the trunk further down the drive. I easily counted 10 to 15 small to medium oak trees snapped in two and scattered in the field. The water was 10 inches deep in some areas of the drive.
John was already at the barn when we drove up. He had his horse, Coal, saddled and ready to go. He told me Signal’s calf was laying in six inches of water and she wouldn’t let him and Armando get near it, even on the tractor. He told me to drive the trailer into the pasture, he would drive Signal away from the calf and Armando could retrieve the baby in the trailer. Judy and Armando jumped in the trailer and we followed John into the front pasture. Signal may have felt like she was a match for the International tractor but Coal was too much for her. She turned and moved away from the calf and Judy and Armando made a mad dash to retrieve a wet, shivering, slippery bundle of newborn Texas Longhorn out of the water and mud. He was a big beautiful black and white bull calf.
Once back at the barn we went to work on the fellow with towels. Electrical power was out in the whole area so John cranked the generator and we got a heater running in the tack room. It didn’t take long to get him dry and warm. Signal had calmed down a little by now and decided she didn’t need to eat us for lunch. John drove her in a small trap by the barn and her new arrival had his first meal. What an unwelcome greeting this guy had into his new environment! I named him on the spot: FCF Black Rain.
A quick look at the rain gauge showed we had gotten 3.5 inches in just over one hour. With all the trees down at the house, John decided he and Armando better check the fence line at our other pasture. He loaded the chain saw in the truck and Coal in the trailer and off they went.
John didn’t get back until long after dark and I didn’t like the look on his face when I went to the barn to help him with Coal. John and Coal were both soaked to the bone and covered in mud.
“Were there trees on the fences?”
“It’s worse than that. There was a tree down on Miracle. I don’t know if she is going to make it,” was what he told me.
FCF Black Rain at 6 days of age after he dried out!
When they got to the other pasture all the cows except Miracle were waiting in the pen. John had ridden Coal into the pasture and found Miracle, one of our beautiful grulla and white cows, trapped under a fallen 50-foot pine tree. She was on the old logging road headed to the pens when the tree went down on her across her head, neck and back. The logging road had filled with rainwater. When John saw her he thought she was dead. He hobbled Coal on a higher spot and went to examine Miracle. She was lying in knee deep water with her head on a small rise and her nose just barely out of the water. She had apparently thrashed violently to free herself and dug out a deeper hole underneath her. As John approached she made no attempt to move then he saw her eye blink!
He couldn’t begin to move the huge tree and the water was still rising from the run off. Back on Coal and back to the pens to get Armando and the chain saw. They cut the tree trunk beside her head and back and it took both of them to lift the log off her. She struggled to rise in the mud and water. John and Armando pushed and prodded until she was on the high spot beside Coal. She could barely stand and didn’t seem to be able to bear weight on her right rear leg – the one she had been down on. She couldn’t move any further. She wouldn’t put her right rear leg on the ground. She was bleeding from her nostrils and having difficulty breathing. Her right horn was broken at the base and possibly her skull was broken.
It had gotten dark by now and John had no way to move her to the pens. They brought some hay and feed to her, tried to make a bed of hay and then left her till morning. He told me he didn’t expect to find her alive in the morning or that we might have to put her down if her skull or leg was broken.
Our beautiful cow Miracle before the accident
At day break the next morning we were at the pasture horseback and headed out to find her. She wasn’t where John left her. That was either good or bad! We found the rest of the herd but still no sign of Miracle. We feared the worst. This pasture has areas that are heavily wooded and the going is very rough. We worked through the woods and finally John saw her – still on her feet. Very slowly and carefully we maneuvered her towards the pens. She could only walk for a few moments and then she would tire completely and not move. She kept trying to move into the woods to get away from us. Finally we got her to the pens and to our surprise when she saw the trailer she walked to it and struggled inside. We loaded the horses in the back and headed home with our poor damaged cow.
Closer inspection didn’t look good. Her right horn was broken at the base and drooping five inches. She was bleeding from her both nostrils. Her head, neck and shoulders were so swollen she looked like a Pillsbury dough cow! She had scratches and cuts all along her right side. She couldn’t lower her head to the ground and couldn’t turn it to either side.
We needed to get her into the chute in order to give her medications, including intravenous injections. When I bought Miracle last year Russell Fairchild heard about it from her previous owner. Russell really liked the cow and told me I ought to show her. “She was halter broken as a calf, you know” he said. No, I didn’t know she was halter broken, but suddenly it seemed like it could be helpful right now to have a halter broken cow to work on. Armando brought a halter and to our surprise Miracle stood perfectly still while we placed it on her swollen head. The loose horn was obviously causing her a lot of pain. John had a brilliant idea. He got a pipe bender from the shop and custom shaped some ½” rigid conduit to the shape of her horns. We placed it across her head (he rounded it to go over the swelling), taped the good horn to it first, then elevated the broken horn and taped it in place. Then we carefully led her into the chute for her injections. She allowed all this to take place without objection.
I still didn’t know if she would make it or not. Her calf was due at the end of the month and there were all kinds of complications that could arise. Her skull might be fractured. She might develop pneumonia. She might go down and decide not to get up. She was continuing to bleed from the nostrils. She was obviously in a lot of pain.
She couldn’t lower her head to the ground to eat. We elevated her feed pan and she ate a small amount of grain. We poured molasses over hay to encourage her to eat it. All her food and water had to be at head height. She couldn’t raise, lower or turn her head. When she needed to look at something behind her, she rotated her whole body in a circle.
We gave Miracle intravenous fluids, antibiotics, medications for the swelling and pain for several weeks. She slowly improved. When she got close to having her calf, I gave her steroids and Lutalyse to induce labor. We had to deliver the calf because Miracle could not move well enough for a normal delivery. We delivered a big healthy heifer calf – solid black. Poor Miracle couldn’t even lower her head to lick her baby. She looked pretty miserable. We cleaned the calf for her and helped the baby stand. I really know Miracle understood that we were helping her. She stood still while we maneuvered the calf to nurse. Miracle could finally lick on her baby a little while the calf was standing.
We kept Miracle and her baby in the pen at the barn for about a month and then Miracle began to ask to go in the pasture. We still had her horn taped to the brace and I didn’t want her fighting with another cow and re-injuring it but she would stand at the gate and moo at us to let her out so finally we turned her with a few heifers. By May she could lower her head to graze, although I think it was still painful for her. She moved very cautiously and held her head very still while walking. Her horn itched tremendously as it was healing and she always came to us in the pasture and lowered her head to have the base of the horn scratched. What a pet she had turned into!
This wonderful cow really lived up to her name. She recovered from this terrible injury, delivered a calf just 19 days after the accident, nursed her baby and bred back on the very first “AI” service, shortening her calving cycle by one full month for the next year! Don’t ever let anyone tell you Texas Longhorns aren’t tough. Miracle’s horn healed at the base and has only a very slight droop when compared to the other horn. No one notices it unless I point it out. But when I take people in the pasture to look at our cows, Miracle always walks straight up to us with her head down so we can scratch her on the head where the horn healed. That’s a special treat to her and one I am happy to oblige.
Miracle asks Armando to scratch her horn.
Update: Miracle had her next calf on March 5, 2002, just 11 months after giving birth to FCF Glow In The Dark.