I've been keeping the young stock moving quite quickly through the paddocks, now that some grass is actually growing. I've booked seven of them to go to the works next week, so want to keep their feed levels up to maintain their fine body form until the time of leaving.
I went and called them to the bottom of the PWHS (Paddock With the Hole which the Steer fell in - a name gained some 25 years ago, when Stephan's family first lived here) and only one of the little twins turned up, then gradually a few more animals drifted down the hill and I moved them into the neighbouring paddock. I could hear others up the hill and really couldn't be bothered with the scramble up to round them up and down the hill, so went home and did some pottery, for the first time in weeks!
This morning I went to get the rest of the young cattle out of their paddock. All but one steer eventually turned up at the gate, so I went for a walk to see where #356 had got to. Walking along the bottom of the paddock, next to the swamp, I headed for the "gully trap" which I always check, and heard, with a sinking feeling of dread, the distressed grunt of a trapped animal. 'A wise person learns from their mistakes, only a fool repeats them', I often smugly recite to myself and now must own up to the utter stupidity of never having returned to that area after the last steer was caught there (and subsequently escaped on his own), to dig out the hard clay mounds which I knew remained a hazard.
I stroked the head of my lovely quiet steer and told him I'd be back, then headed home to pick up some gear - ropes, a blanket, a spade, water to drink, some hay and threw it all on the tractor and drove back out, just as it began to rain, quite heavily. I took the precaution of telling a couple of people where I was going, in case I disappeared and needed help - Stephan was at work, so I left a message for him on his return from the milk run.
I took a couple of photographs of the situation before I began digging, but they have strangely disappeared from the camera files, so here's the older picture of the "gully trap" as it was...
The steer was stuck in this narrow piece, with his head coming up towards me, and his right hip caught behind the small tree in the middle of the picture. I started digging where the tree is growing, since that was squeezing his abdomen uncomfortably and restricting his ability to breathe.
I dug furiously for two hours, removing the tree and digging away half of that mound and the one at his right shoulder, but failed to free him, mostly because he just wouldn't get up and walk out.
By that stage I was feeling very shaky, so put the blanket over the steer's back and set out for home and some lunch, suddenly meeting my mother, Jill, and Bruce on the track, only a short distance from where I'd been. They had come for a visit and had left my aunt at the house and set out to follow the directions I'd left in a note by the front door.
Stephan arrived home and we quickly ate, our visitors left again, (since they'd got all wet during their walk and wanted to go home) and we set out again.
Stephan dug, much faster than I, and continued to remove the clay mounds, expressing some surprise that I'd been felling trees and moving so much earth before he arrived! I just stood and trembled, agreeing that it was, indeed, quite remarkable!
Eventually, after another couple of hours of earth-works in the rain, it looked like there was plenty of room to start pulling the steer out of his bog, so we looped a strap around his back end and, failing to get one under his chest, carefully pulled his head - not ideal, but when it's death or having your head pulled, there's not much to choose. We were just using a couple of tie-down straps with ratchets, which worked, but didn't give us much pulling distance before needing to be released and reset.
We managed to move him towards the best place we could see to get him out, since it had become obvious that he wasn't going to have the strength to get up and climb out on his own. By that stage I figured that we would both need something to eat again with a nice cup of tea, so set off for home. I rang Graham down the road, who had just arrived home but said he would come to help immediately, to my great relief. With him he brought a ratchet and chain device which was much more suited to the job than the gear we had been using.
Stephan, during my absence, had dug a strap down and under the steer's chest and tied it around him and using the better pulling gear, the two men made much better progress than Stephan and I had before. I kept an eye on the steer's state as the two of them did the pulling, since I wanted to make sure we caused him as little extra pain and damage as we possibly could.
We got him out and away from the bog by around 6.30pm and left him sitting, well covered in blankets, with hay and water and went home for dinner. Stephan and I exhaustedly walked back out to check him at 10pm with a metabolism-stimulating drench and went home to bed knowing we'd done the best we could for the moment.
The steer's inability to get up was not surprising. We have just had two unseasonably cold nights, although it has been dry, so there wasn't a great deal of water flowing down through the gully. I would think, from the appearance of the animal's eyes and his energy level, that he had been trapped only since some time yesterday, so he wasn't hugely dehydrated, and as I had gradually released his abdomen early in the day, he had begun belching and gurgling within, as if his rumen was doing what it needed to.
The problem with cattle when they're down for long periods, is the damage which occurs to the muscles and the fact that their body temperature drops, especially in this sort of wet, cold situation. We knew that the best chance of getting him up and walking would be provided by our lifting him in a sling with the tractor, but there was no way we could get such machinery in to him, so we just had to do our best to massage and move him back to health. The other difficulty was that he was unwilling to drink and would not eat the hay we'd brought in.
We walked out to check the steer with a feeling of dread, knowing that he could easily have moved himself around and got back into a wet and cold position. We walked over the brow of the last mound and couldn't see him at first, then realised he had slid into the drain below the bog. All his blankets had disappeared, presumably underneath him in the mud.
Stephan went back out, drove down to Graham's place, borrowed the quad (motorised four-wheel "bike") and the ratchet tool, again, and we hauled him back onto the drier ground.
I left Stephan there for much of the day, massaging the steer and creating a culvert over the drain, to provide a larger, drier area in case the steer moved himself again. I needed to move the cattle who had been left in their paddocks for two days longer than I had intended as we dealt with this other crisis, sorted out my breeding notes from the last week, and contacted the vet for advice about how best to help the steer.
Graham appeared again at the end of his work day, with supplies I'd telephoned and asked him to collect from the vet. The steer's breathing was getting quite laboured, along with the presence of increasing amounts of nasal mucous, so the vet and I had discussed administering an antibiotic for pneumonia. We also borrowed an electric cattle-prod, something we don't have, but which in the circumstances seemed a sensible tool to procure. #356 is one of the quieter animals and when in peak health is unwilling to move anywhere he doesn't want to, so I considered the chances of getting him up and moving without some significant impetus, were low.
I collected some green feed, since he still wasn't interested in the hay, and he ate it with great enthusiasm, so we began to collect and carry in bags of grass. I was tremendously cheered by this discovery, although we were still unable to get the steer to drink anything and were continually using the drench gun to get a bit of fluid into him.
We went home for the evening, a little more confident that he wouldn't end up back in the drain, since it was now nicely covered with dry earth.
#356 had moved himself around a bit, but not very far - he must just have shuffled himself around as he changed position. We took him more grass and then got ready to try the electric prod. He made some very good attempts at getting up, but his front legs were obviously very weak. I figured that every time he moved his larger muscles, he was doing himself some good in terms of recovery and he soon recognised the yellow prod, as I carried it toward him, and attempted to get up before I had to use it.
I had to keep walking back to the front of the farm to do other things, like checking the insemination cows, so got to know the track in and out very very well. On one of my treks to the swamp, I took a picture of every stretch of the walk and present them here, for your exhaustion. If you're willing to vicariously share the whole experience, you will need to concentrate on every small picture, imagining each step you would take to travel along the part of the track pictured.
The steer was still very weak and seemed unable to push himself up on his front legs. We had begun talking about the possibility of digging a track in to the area, since it would be useful in the future for clearing the hillsides of the wonderful Manuka fire-wood, and it was looking like the only way to get the steer up on his feet would be to lift him, so Stephan went back out and began work with the tractor.
I carried on feeding the steer, brushing the mud of him as it dried, and trying to keep the increasing population of flies at bay. I think the most surprising thing about the whole experience was the volume of the buzzing, as the flies congregated around the steer and the disturbed mud. Cattle are not usually bothered by flies as sheep are, since their skin is so thick and their hair short, but the steer had rubbed areas where the skin was beginning to flake away, so there were places the flies could lay their eggs and where the maggots may have been able to work their way in.
At around 8pm I set the steer up for the night, feeding him the rest of the grass, and providing some water, which he had begun to drink at last, and covered him with blankets.
I'd been hearing the tractor in the background all afternoon but had no idea how far Stephan had progressed through what seemed a huge task, until I came upon him ...
... he'd got about half-way through, which delighted us both, since we'd thought it would be such a mammoth task. I left him there with Graham and Neil for company (and safety) and went home to cook dinner - a rare thing!