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Cow Tipping

Posted 8/7/2014 2:49pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Last evening Charlie called asking for Roy. They needed help to roll a cow who's uterus had rotated preventing the calf inside from birthing. Roy wasn't home from work so I volunteered to help. I'm not as strong as Roy but I was intrigued about the process and certainly willing to pull as hard as I can to help a distressed cow. Frances, who has been devouring the James Herriot books this summer, was positively giddy about watching a country vet perform a trick she had read about, and Riley was happy to bike along to play with the kittens who are always wandering around the dairy barn. 

We found Charlie, Stephanie, Charlie's brother-in-law Chris, and Allie, a young woman vet, all standing in the barnyard around a large Holstein cow who was harnessed with ropes to the fence. As we entered, Allie took a long rope and fashioned a harness around the cows belly. It looked simple enough, just a rope going around the cows middle at specific locations, but it is not the sort of harness one just slings around a cow without any knowledge, that was clear. The loops and intersections of the rope were spaced just right so that the end of the rope extended out towards the rear of the cow. Amazing really. Forty-pound kids on climbing walls wear more of a harness than Sherrie, the poor cow with a twisted uterus, was wearing for this event. While Stephanie held on to the harness rope at the back, Charlie held on to the rope halter at her head, while Allie looped ropes around one of Sherrie's front and back ankles.

When all the ropes were secured, Chris, Stephanie, and I were instructed take hold of the rope coming towards Sherrie's rear end and pull as hard as we could to force the cow to lay down. I'll admit, I was skeptical, but like the Empire's At-At Walkers circled by Rebel ingenuity in The Empire Strikes Back, Shelly crumpled gently onto her belly when the three of us pulled with all our might.

Then it got really weird. Allie picked up a large plank, laid it across Sherrie's belly, just above the hip. She instructed us to pick up the ropes looped around the cows ankles, Charlie and Chris at the front, Stephanie and I at the back, and slowly pull on the cow to flip her onto her back. Meanwhile, Allie kneeled on all fours on the plank, squishing it hard into Sherrie's belly. Charlie and Stephanie were obviously familiar with this process and seemed comfortable with it. Knowing that they take very good care of their dairy herd and seeing cows tolerate even crazier treatments, like surgery in their stomachs while they stand placidly in their stall, I figured I'd just go with it and do what I was asked.

"Pull gently and slowly till she is on her back then pause there for a few seconds. Then very slowly lower her onto her other side and then she'll stand up" Ally instructed. We pulled, Allie rode on her plank perch, and Sherrie slowly rolled onto her back. We tried to keep her there but momentum was against us and she pretty quickly continued her roll and very shortly after, was up on her feet.

Allie got out her long, plastic gloves and performed an examination to see if we had been successful. With her arm deep into the cow’s vagina, brow’s furrowed in thought, she declared there was little or no change. The twist in the uterus was still there and we would have to try again.

The second time was more successful and but a third attempt was needed. By that time, Sherrie’s knees and hips were beginning to bruise and Roy had arrived to replace me while I took Frances to piano lessons. Leaving midway through the ordeal was not easy; especially when there was a lot of uncertainty about the outcome.

When we returned later that evening, Roy said it appeared the third time was the charm, but really the jury was still out. The uterus seemed to be in the correct position and Sherrie and the calf were alive. Now it was a waiting game. 

Late last night when Charlie and Tammy checked on Sherrie, the calf’s head was about to exit so they helped their exhausted cow by pulling it out. It is alive and doing well. A little heifer calf, just what dairy farmers want from one of their best cows. Sherrie too seems to be doing well. A little bruised and banged up but eating and chewing her cud again. Charlie is optimistic that she’ll be okay.

Every country kid hears stories of crazy uncles or cousins who go cow tipping,(in case your not a country kid, "cow tipping" usually refers to pushing over cows while they stand sleeping on pasture) but I never really believed them. Now I can honestly say I witnessed, even helped a little bit, with a very successful cow tipping.