Some things just aren’t meant to be. I came to this conclusion after I had come to terms with the loss of a premature calf I almost succeeded in raising.
Bubby, a temporary name I gave her because I had little confidence in her survival, entered this world seven weeks and three days earlier than her expected time of arrival. Her mother, a heifer and a novice to motherhood, seemed unaware that anything untoward had happened. The pathetic little creature expelled so unceremoniously from the warmth of the womb, lay helpless in the now cold mucus and residue of her birth sac.
She was not much bigger than a cat with just a sparse covering of a coat. She was so small and frail that I felt she had no hope of survival, yet she latched on to my little finger and sucked enthusiastically. I rang the vet.
When Gavin answered my call he sighed and even though I couldn’t see him, I knew he was shaking his head. “She will just break your heart, but I know you’ll try anyway!”
It was late autumn but still quite warm. Bubby was wrapped in a molleton rug and surrounded by hot water bottles. We lit the pot belly stove and placed a bowl of water nearby to provide warm humid air. I thawed a litre of colostrum kept in the freezer for emergencies, and fed Bubby two hundred and fifty ml from a bottle with a special floppy teat.
For the next week it was a constant round of two hourly feeds. After the first night, I brought in the large wood box which I lined with a woollen blanket covered with a plastic sheet. On this sheet I placed several old towels and molleton baby rugs. All of these layers had to be changed and washed several times a day so the washing machine was constantly in operation.
Bubby grew stronger with each passing hour. She was on her feet at 24 hours old and in just two days, was clad in a jumper so that she could explore the front garden for short periods during the warmest part of the day.
The first crisis came unexpectedly when she was six days old. She threw herself down on her side and kicked at her tummy. Her breathing became shallow and laboured and I rang Gavin for help. I thought she was dying and when he arrived and saw her he wasn’t too optimistic either, and he wasn’t certain as to what was causing her problems. She had a temperature and although she appeared to be kicking at pains in her belly, Gavin could find nothing wrong.
After a painkiller and an antibiotic injection, Bubby began to show signs of improvement in an hour or so. She still had a raised temperature and refused her feed but her breathing was normal. It was simply a matter of nursing, hoping and getting as much fluid into her as possible.
I was required to write down her intake, output and temperature recordings and relay them by phone to Gavin twice a day. I had to give her the antiobiotic injections until her temperature dropped back to normal on the fourth day when the injections were discontinued. She had recovered from whatever ailed her.
After her small setback, she began to thrive. She had the run of the dining room and breakfast room which were carpeted and I spent my time running after her with a bowl to catch the puddles. When I was unable to watch her, I placed her on a rug in the middle of the lounge-room’s polished floor. She quickly learned that to leave the rug was to invite disaster on the slippery floor.
She was two weeks old when the next crisis struck. Once again her temperature shot up and she refused her feeds. She was pathetic in her misery and after two sleepless nights, I was sure we had reached the end. To make matters worse, I got down on my knees to tend her and found I was unable to get up because my knee had locked. I had to be taken to the doctor who promptly put me in hospital overnight. I was so unhappy because I felt Bubby would be dead by the time I got back home.
Hubby managed to persuade her to drink half a bottle and when I came home in the morning she got to her feet and demanded attention. It was only then that an idea crossed my mind. I looked into her mouth and discovered a couple of grinders in the back gums. Bubby’s crises were caused by teething! My boys had long since grown up and I had forgotten about babies and teething traumas. Gavin was delighted with my discovery as he had not thought of teething either. After all, full term calves have their grinders when they are born.
By the time she was four weeks old she had grown so much she could pass for a full term calf. She had taken to bunting the furniture and over-turning chairs so her days inside came to an abrupt end. She continued to sleep in her box by the pot belly at night until she discovered she could easily jump out of the box and go exploring.
In no time at all her curiosity outgrew the garden and she began finding ways to wander further afield. Having had no contact with her own kind, she viewed the herd with suspicion. I am positive she thought she was human or even a cat or dog, but as she viewed the cows through the fence she backed away as though thinking she was definitely not bovine.
Eventually she began to take an interest in the heifer calves in the “nursery” by the orchard and on occasions, broke in to romp with them.
Life was a bowl of cherries and she revelled in it. Her antics were a delight to watch.
The last crisis came unexpectedly when she was seven weeks and three days old. She didn’t come when I called her though she sat there watching me. Her eyes were not as bright as usual and when I encouraged her to get to her feet, she swayed on wobbly back legs.
By now she was much too heavy for me to carry so I put her in the wheelbarrow and brought her up onto the front verandah.
She was obviously in a good deal of pain so I called Gavin. For two hours Gavin tried to ease her pain but she didn’t respond. On the face of it she was a lovely healthy animal yet she was frantic with a pain he wasn’t able to alleviate and she died – she was seven weeks and three days old.
“I am so sorry,” Gavin said softly, “I really thought we had raised this one.”
I grieved for Bubby as I would have had she been a child of my own body. If her survival had been decreed she wouldn’t have died on the very day she was due to be born, would she? That is why I believe some things just weren’t meant to be. Perhaps the survival of us all is written in the wind.