This blog post written by PSGR Founder & Director Barbara Jamison
I wondered how much plastic I would have to put down on my kitchen floor to bring Norman the calf into my house for the night? Making yet another trek to the barn to care for him at one a.m. on a bitter cold night, it wasn’t for Norman that I was toying with this idea, it was for me. Norman was warm and tucked into a bedded “hot box” in a stall but on day three of round the clock care, I was fast approaching the all too common “Rescue The Rescuer” status. Three days of little sleep, no shower, unbrushed hair stuffed into a stocking cap and thermal overalls thrown over pajamas—I was not a pretty site. After seeing how weak he was, I realized making the journey from stall to house would be asking too much of him. So Norman stayed put and I continued the back and forth from house to barn and back again every two to three hours. The “auction calf vortex” is powerful and depleting.
I quit rescuing calves from auctions 15 years ago. The first time I naively bought two Jersey calves at auction for $5 each, I turned to the farmer sitting next to me and asked him what I needed to do for them when I got home. “Dig a hole’” he deadpanned. But he was right as one of the two died within a few days and the struggle to keep the other alive went on for several grueling weeks before he stabilized. I rescued more “auction” Jersey calves over the next few years and experienced the heartbreak of over 50% mortality. All the meds, vet intervention and love in the world cannot save them if they do not get good colostrum at birth. Even with colostrum, being taken from their mothers at a day old and hauled to a cootie-filled livestock auction doesn’t help either. The deck is stacked against them and their well-meaning rescuers from day one, especially the more fragile Jerseys.
Norman sold for $10 at the livestock auction. As I was leaving, I saw the man who bought him re-selling him in the parking lot after the auction ended. To make an extra $10, he was reselling him to a livestock hauler for $20 who was going to load him into a stock trailer already filled with full grown cows and haul him to yet another auction the next day. All with the intent of making a little more money. Five dollars more? Maybe ten? Such a paltry sum for a precious life. It was sickening to watch the deal being made. With so many goats and sheep already at the rescue, warning bells were clanging in my head. But I bought him from the man anyway for $20 before the hauler got him.
Driving home with the little calf, all those memories of 15 years ago conveniently suppressed, I thought to myself, “Seriously, he looks pretty healthy. How bad can it get?”
It is day 10 and with the “shot-out-of-a-cannon” feeling in full force, I find myself sitting on a stool in Norman’s stall at 2 a.m.—overwhelmed with frustration as his health plummets . Unable to stand, eat or even hold his head up—he is in dire condition. After the first four days of cuteness overload with Norman playful and active, it started on day five. A little diarrhea; then a fever. More diarrhea followed—more fever, then full on malaise, weakness and unwillingness to eat as little Norman struggled to fight off the inevitable viruses auction calves contract. Bitter cold and snow didn’t help. Multiple vet visits followed involving, catheters, antibiotics, fluids, and an endless mix of meds. He is a limp noodle and I struggle to hold his head up to tube feed milk into his bony body. The trek from house to barn and back continues nonstop with all the goats and sheep giving me the stink eye as I pass them by on my way to tend to Norman. Likewise the farm dogs who are peeved and also feeling neglected. Trying to unwind for a few hours in front of the TV is unfulfilling because I know Norman is outside feeling like crap.
Day 13: The walk to Norman’s stall every morning now is a dreaded event. This morning is no different as I brace myself for what I might find. To lose them is soul crushing, especially after a protracted battle.
There is always an element of disbelief that with all the meds and care, sometimes you still cannot save them. But there are wins too—so you keep trying.
I swing open the stall door and a pair of big beautiful brown calf eyes are looking straight at me. His head is up! He is trying to stand! It is a “Eureka!” moment. I want to jump in the air and click my heels together with joy but am too tired. So I visualize myself doing it.
As I write this on Day 16, Norman’s health continues to improve dramatically. He is drinking his bottle on his own again, and is up and roaming about. It is time for a hot shower and sleep for me and for Norman, a long, easy life.....go NORMAN!