Ask Kathi what has been her favorite part of our practice together and without a doubt her answer will be delivering the babies. Her career as a dedicated animal caregiver, trainer, and animal lover started early in her life in Tiffin, Ohio, her hometown. As she had babies of her own, she started working in veterinary clinics as a veterinary technician. Her quiet confidence and friendly smile quieted both nervous clients and their animals. She was a natural caregiver.
By the time Kathi and I formed our veterinary partnership, Kathi had already become a seasoned technician. Our practice was ambulatory and did not include a clinic; but that didn’t stop Kathi. Her needy babies were brought into our house. Once she traded fees earned for a cow c-section for the unwanted calf of a young heifer that neither the young heifer nor the old rancher were interested in caring for. We brought home a rejected elk calf from a domestic elk herd, and Kathi fed it with a tube for over a month. We treated flea-infested fox kits in our kitchen sink and fed baby antelope for a client who had agreed to care for rescued wild babies. We brought home a newborn calf that had suffered an injury to its esophagus received from an improperly applied tube feeder. The injury could not be repaired, and we buried it behind our house when it died.
The most important parts of the year for animal babies are the spring and early summer when most are born. Nature has scheduled their birthdays in these months to optimize the food supply to the mothers, thereby optimizing the milk supply to the baby. Unfortunately, that is also the time of the year when we frequently have snow storms, periods of cold, and wet weather. The weather isn’t such a problem for horses since most are housed indoors as the mares approach their due dates. But the weather can be lethal for new-born calves. Imagine what it would be like to be pushed out of a warm mother, wetted by birthing fluids, onto snow with strong winds and below zero wind chills. Some calves are missing the tips of their ears from frostbite suffered during such frigid births. Why don’t they all succumb to the elements?
The most rewarding time of a year for Kathi has been that season of birthing, the foaling and calving season. So, when we would get an emergency call for a cow dystocia (difficult birth) in a snowstorm, I would concentrate on having the proper equipment: warm water, water-resistant warm clothing that were ok to get stained, and a change of clothing for afterward. Kathi would make sure there were warm, dry towels and proper equipment to care for a live calf. I thought about lying on the frozen ground in the snow while trying to reposition a nearly unmovable object made slick by the slimy birthing fluids. Kathi thought about stimulating the calf to take its first breath, to stand and nurse, to be able to keep up with its mother in a matter of hours. My focus would be like a soldier getting ready to go to war; Kathi’s focus would be like a god-mother going to a baby shower.
One of the most important parts of any mammal’s first day of life is receiving adequate colostrum. This “liquid gold” is magically produced in the milk glands of the mother just prior to birth, and persists for only a few days. At the same time, the baby can only efficiently absorb it into its system the first six to twelve hours. As caregivers, we must be sure the baby ingests adequate amounts of good quality colostrum within the first six to twelve hours of life. This requires the mother produce high-quality colostrum and the baby stands and nurses adequately in that time. The colostrum contains antibodies produced by the mother which protect against infection until the baby becomes mature enough to produce its own. It also contains high levels of sugars, protein, and fat needed for early energy. The most efficient way to assure adequate colostrum intake is often to milk the mom and tube-feed the baby. The tube-feeding is simple enough; the mom-milking can be more problematic.
My childhood specially prepared me for the task of milk procurement. My family hand-milked a small herd of cows, separated cream from the milk, and sold the cream to supplement the family’s income. Because of their anatomy, some cows are easier to milk than others. My dad assigned me the easier ones, while he would milk the more difficult ones. I learned the technique, and learned a good milker could create a large enough stream of milk to form foam on the top of the milk. I would easily qualify as a “foam milker” even today. Cows regularly milked learn to relax with the process thereby “letting down” their milk. Animals naturally let down their milk when their babies nurse. First-time moms or frightened moms are harder to milk because they fail to let down their milk. In the end, some level of skill is helpful, but persistence is essential.
Kathi and I have been called to assist the birth of quite a variety of animals: Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, pigs, pot belly pigs. We’ve saved a lot of babies; we’ve lost a few; we’ve tried hard on all. We’ve milked many moms and tubed babies with nature’s liquid gold. The one thing common in all those babies was there determination to rise, to nurse, to live! That determination is contagious; it gets us up in the night and out in the cold, and down on the frozen ground. That natural determination of those babies keeps us trying and in a small part makes us a part of these animals. And our reward is we may make a difference for a new life. By the effort we certainly make a difference in ours.
The People We Love
We have a young couple, Katie and Tony, who are members of our LEQMC family who were blessed with the birth of a daughter, Meryl, a couple of weeks ago. Because of a problem for mom and daughter, Meryl was born months early. Both are doing well, but the early delivery means Meryl has many days more in intensive care before she can go home. We wish we could use our medical expertise to make a difference for Meryl, but, of course, we can’t. Kathi and I have found we feel we have made a difference by contributing to a GoFundMe account for Meryl. We feel like we are a part of her life just like we are a part of your animals’ lives that we have been able to help. If you have a little left after the holidays and wish to contribute to these three great people, I am sure you will be rewarded just like Kathi and I have been. Thanks.