Today, I celebrate hay.
These are some of our calves. To the far right, you can see the edge of a large round bale of hay. Dave had just dropped it there with the tractor. And you can see my arm where I am gathering up baling twine. The calves are “helping.”
After this photo was made, and after all the twine was gone, we put a large metal hay ring over the hay so they can’t walk on it, have a nap on it, pee on it and generally destroy it.
And that picture takes me to this story, which occurred in 2013.
I’m not sure which of the two Jersey calves in this photo is the wayward boy, but it was one of them. The black Angus calf, named “Blackie,” was innocent.
One night, about two days after this picture was made, one of those boys got part way through his bottle and began to choke. Dave was feeding him, yelled at me for help, I came running, and by the time I got there, the calf was staggering around, quite clearly suffocating.
He went down, we dragged him out of his poorly lit stall into the main breezeway of the barn on the concrete and I called Jason (our dairy farm manager mentor). Jason said he’d be right there and I remember telling him that I didn’t think the calf would be alive when he got there.
We did everything we could think to do. We repositioned him. We pounded on his chest. At this point, we thought that he’d choked on the milk, and got some into his lungs. I was ready to attempt CPR, although I had no idea how to do that on a calf (their mouth and nose are collectively big).
Just when we were convinced he was going to die, he coughed a little and that made it easier for him to breathe. He went from getting almost no air, to getting a bit more. He still was in terrible shape, but he wasn’t dead.
Jason arrived. We still had no idea what was wrong with him and were going on the assumption that he had inhaled milk. Jason grabbed his hind legs and hoisted him upside down (look in that photo at the size of that calf—Jason is a strong guy). He held him that way by stepping up on the gate nearby and then shook him, attempting to drain milk out of his lungs.
After a bit, he let him down and the calf stood on his own, still having difficulty breathing, but not in the dire shape he’d been in a few minutes earlier.
Jason finally decided to give him some penicillin, thinking he would almost certainly develop pneumonia. While he was getting that, the calf began coughing again and I saw a pink thing in his mouth. I had no idea what it was, but grabbed his head, forced his mouth open, caught the pink thing and pulled gently.
I dragged it out. It seemed like it kept coming forever.
And there it is, with a glove for size contrast.
The tangled ball at the end was obviously blocking his trachea and almost killed him. He was breathing through that mess.
He gave one last cough and then began yelling at me because he wanted to finish his bottle. We were all cheering and laughing and happy as clams. He was oblivious.
That calf went on to adulthood, was sold and I have no idea what happened to him then. (Nearly all our calves remain intact as bulls.)
Since then, we are fanatical about baling twine. It all gets removed and disposed of where idiot calves can’t eat it.
And the moral of this story is this: when a calf or a child or an adult or a puppy is choking and you don’t know why, or even if you do think you know why, open their mouth and look. You might see baling twine, or a little part to a toy, or a French fry.
Nurses know this. We are taught it. We practice it when we do CPR and emergency care training. And hell, I was a recovery room nurse. I checked patients for open airways professionally for years. I know this stuff.
And I just neglected to look because we thought we knew what the problem was. We assumed he’d inhaled milk.
A life may depend on it.