My most loathed phone call begins with this simple line: Cow down.
I can feel my stomach drop. I can sense my body clench in frustration. Down cows test my patience. They challenge my will to farm and the control I have over my tongue. I cannot lift a cow by myself. It is at minimum a three-man job to get a down cow maneuvered safely into the skidloader bucket and transported to the bedding pack. If she still has a fair amount of fight in her, take that number up to four humans to help wrangle her into the bucket safely. As miserable as moving a big cow is, it is just as awful to leave her scrambling about, slipping and sliding like Bambi on ice in the middle of the milking pen. 
I have pondered why this particular part of farming brings out the worst in me. I can’t always see what the problem is that took her down, the cure to what ails her is not always instant, and I cannot fix her by myself, so I have to bother someone else to help me. We do not have an area that is strictly for down cows. Such cases have to share their straw-laden corner of the world with mothers-to-be. No farm is perfect, and having a down cow is another fact of life, much like the old adage “Where you have livestock, you will have dead stock.” That doesn’t keep my blood from boiling or my tongue from lashing when I get to the barn and find a gigantic Holstein lying in the middle of the alley sprawled out and covered in manure from all of her flailing about. 
Sometimes the causes are obvious. Beezus came over with bad mastitis and was trembling something awful two weeks ago. After getting an IV and being stomach fed with all of the good stuff (including a healthy dose of love) to help her fight the infection in her body, she walked out of the hospital parlor. Within 15 minutes, she was down in the splits by the feed alley. The cause? The large and in charge Swiss who we cannot sell because she is Cora’s pet was in heat. When the Swiss is in heat, she is a slobbering powerhouse and as supremely stubborn as they come. I bet all it took was one sniff and a polite bump from the Swiss and poor little Beezus was down on the cement. 
Beezus was rolled, hobbled (with the help of four men) and carefully pushed into the skidloader bucket to be carried to the bedding pack not more than 30 feet away. She wasn’t destined to be lonely long. Carmena was coming to join her in the straw. Carmena cannot seem to start out a new lactation without some milk fever issues the past couple of years. We were on high alert; she had been given the customary Bovikalc bolus right off the bat and followed up with a second bolus 12 hours later. She was down the night prior in the stall, but with the help of some IV calcium, she got up and was devouring feed in short order. The next morning, the buzz from the calcium wore off, and she crawled into the straw pen. She and Beezus were roommates for one day when I thought Carmena was ready to rock and roll. Wrong. That night she was down in the manure and crawled until she lunged her huge frame upright and walked into the straw once again. This time I kept her in for another two days. When her body’s electrolytes seemed to right themselves, she was off and running. 
With Carmena in the pen to encourage her, Beezus went from being completely stagnant to standing up smoothly within 48 hours. If you ask Cora, though, it was definitely because she would replace the blanket covering her every time she walked past the pen. We waited another three days before determining she could do life upright without the assistance of the hobbles. She graduated from the warm straw a day later and hasn’t looked back. Just in time because this week Starburst calved. Looking at Starburst you would think she was on her third or fourth lactation; she’s just begun her second. She is gorgeous, well over 6 feet tall, with a perfectly placed udder and is a picturesque milk-making machine. Three days after freshening, she was down with the kind of diarrhea that makes you wish you were wearing a full body raincoat. After an IV of fluids and love, she was up. After one mishap, she made it on her legs into the straw pen. She ate so much and was up and looking perky, with manure back to normal, so she went back into the sand after 24 hours. Six hours later, she was back riding the struggle bus. Off and on for the next two days, she couldn’t get her rear end to cooperate, and she rested and ate in the pen. Now she is back to getting up as she wishes, eating and milking like she should be. 
While I can’t promise not to be aggravated by the next down cow, the success stories do help. I am trying to be a good farmer and determine why they are down and which remedy will be the one that gets them back on their hooved feet. What works with one cow may not work on the next except for patience, kindness, love and a solid straw bedding pack. 
Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (14), Dane (12), Henry (7) and Cora (4), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.