On Friday Matilda was not to be seen when I was getting her barley and hay ready to milk her. I thought it was odd, because usually she is hanging around the gate, practically tapping her hooves with impatience. So I knew something was up when I had to walk up there and find her.
She was off by herself, just standing there, moping a little. I said, “Are you okay, Matilda? Ready to come down now?” She just blinked her big, brown cow eyes at me, lifted her tail, and let loose a slurry of diarrhea.
It wasn’t too bad – I mean, I’ve seen worse. But it was bad because then I knew something was wrong. Images of digging a huge cow-grave and bottle feeding her calf for two months flashed through my head. But now she started walking forward and came slowly down to the milking area.
She tried dispassionately to eat, licking a little barley and ignoring the hay. Now I knew it was serious. I checked each teat, but no mastitis. She had less milk than usual, and her rumen bulge on her left side looked hollow and empty. I tried to coax her to have some extra lick or apple cider vinegar, but she flatly refused. She was standing funny, as if her hips hurt. I ran my hands along her neck and back, and I could feel that she felt hot, without even taking her temperature.
There were several things it might be – a common virus, parasites, or a toxic plant. I worried about the latter, as we lost poor Mairie two years ago after she ate something toxic and died. I wanted her to eat something – the poor think looked so suddenly thin. So I put her on the rye in the garden. She limped along, munching. So she wasn’t that sick yet. She would still eat rye. Her coat looked good still, and it has been cold and dry, not really the time for parasites yet. And the fever…
Now I noticed bits of bloody mucus on her tail – oh my gods, I thought. Is this enterotoxemia? Is she shedding bits of intestine? By the time I had walked her back up to her paddock through the garden, she pooped again – no blood. I tried to remember how long it had been since she calved…just about ten days – so I figured it was probably just the 10-day ickies. She sat moping around the hay bale, looking miserable.
We went home when it was dark, and I called my friend Karen who has had cows for about seven years longer than we have. She suggested Arscenticum Album homeopathic, because it sounded like her throat was sore, plus she had scouring. It was going to get cold that night, but not as cold as they had thought it would get. I worried all night, and we went out early the next day. I covered my eyes when we drove up…I couldn’t look. She wasn’t there, anyway.
Ethan got out first and went out to find her. She was standing with Geranium and Chestnut and the calves, who were chasing each other through the stands of oak trees. By the saucy flick of her tail and the gleam in her eye, I could tell she was better. She practically ran over to be let into the rye again, where she munched her way down to the milking area. Then she demanded to be milked, so I got everything ready right away, much to the disappointment and dismay of the goats, who are usually first.
She still refused the hay, so I gave her an extra scoop of barley with dolomite, copper, and vitamin C, which she enjoyed, and forced some Arsenticum down her, which she wasn’t very excited about. Whew – BIG relief. I had also mixed up some immune herbs with honey, which she completely refused. I thought since she was well enough to refuse them that strongly, she probably didn’t need them anyway.
So it was perhaps a virus? We were just getting well from a virus that made our backs hurt, our throats sore, and there was also a day of stomach distress – almost the same symptoms. Could we have made her sick? I guess it’s possible.