Dimple is so old, I remember milking her in the stanchion barn at my dad's before we switched to the parlor. She's eleven-and-a-half years old, to be exact; she started her ninth lactation 21 days after she celebrated her eleventh birthday.

If I asked you to walk amongst our herd and pick out the oldest cows, you'd never even consider Dimple for the designation. She's one of those rare genetic unicorns who seemingly refuses to age.

This past May, though, I thought we were going to lose her. No cow can live forever; and, in my mind, the unicorn's time had finally come.

For a cow who's never had a moment of reproductive trouble, I could tell things weren't going well when I got close enough to the maternity pen to hear her lowing. Not the kind of deep, soothing moo a cow mutters to her newborn calf to welcome it to the world. No, there was no mistaking this sound - the sound of a laboring cow complaining about her struggle. To me, it's the sound of a cow saying something is wrong.

I calmly crawled over the gate and approached her. She looked at me plaintively. No nose, no feet. Breech? We'd had enough breech calves since moving to this farm that the finding wouldn't surprise me. I went to the barn for a sleeve and came right back to check my suspicion.

Nothing felt out of order, though. The calf was right there. I conferred with Glen and we decided to give her a little more time.

An hour later we went back to check again. She hadn't moved. After looking closer, it became clear she hadn't moved for quite some time: the straw was scraped away where she had been moving her legs.

The calf was still right there. With a little pulling from us and few pushes from Dimple, her bull calf slid right out. We carried it up to her so she could see him, but she didn't make any effort to rise. We decided to pump her, give her some steroids for what we thought must be some sort of paralysis, and leave her alone for the night.

Come Friday morning, she still wasn't standing.

Our pinched nerve theory proved false when Dimple responded to Glen's pokes by vigorously kicking her hind legs. Glen pumped her again and we went in to call the vet.

Doc suggested the possibility of milk fever. Impossible, was Glen's reply. Our dry cow ration has everything but the kitchen sink in it - we should never see a case of milk fever; and, besides, her ears aren't cold, he said.

How old is she, Doc asked. She's old, Glen said. Doc still suspected milk fever, telling us old cows are generally more susceptible and the fact that her labor had stalled was another sign pointing in that direction. He suggested we bring in a blood sample to check her mineral levels.

I saw plenty of milk fever cases while growing up, but I'd never seen a cow go down before the calf was born. I was skeptical, but we followed Doc's advice.

The blood test revealed very low calcium and phosphorous levels. Doc prescribed an aggressive schedule of intravenous calcium and phosphorous administration. Since this was our first case of milk fever, we didn't have the phosphorous preparation he recommended.

After Glen returned from the clinic with the box of supplies for treating Dimple, I had a major "A-ha" moment. In the box were several bottles of sodium phosphate solution, the type designed for enema use.

"This is the phosphorous we're supposed to use?" I questioned Glen.

"Yep," he replied.

"Oh my gosh, Glen," were the words that fell out of my mouth next, "that's why Henry** had three bottles of the stuff that day at the drug store!"

A couple months back we had bumped into a fellow dairy farmer at the drug store in town. He looked pretty stressed out and didn't have too much to say. I happened to notice that he had three sodium phosphate enemas in front of him on the checkout counter. On the way home I asked Glen if he had noticed (he hadn't) and speculated that life must be pretty tough if you need three enemas. Glen agreed.

Henry has a few cows in his herd who tend to trouble him with milk fever. I had no idea until we were faced with Dimple's milk fever that Henry was picking the enemas up for his cows, not himself!

After we finished laughing at our faux pas, our focus returned to helping Dimple.

We started her on the treatment schedule, brought her a tub of TMR, and pumped her again to keep her hydrated.

By Saturday morning, Dimple had wiggled around a little but hadn't attempted to stand. I told Glen we should maybe start considering our options. Glen, who normally has a 24-hour down rule, said we weren't giving up yet. We called the vet and brought in another blood sample. She was still low. More IVs. More oral fluids. Our vet confirmed Glen's resolve when he said he'd seen milk fever cows down 30 days before getting up.

So, we were in it for the long haul. Glen concocted a liquid TMR solution - water, protein mix, and alfalfa meal all blended together - to pump her with twice a day. It was like pumping pea soup. I hauled TMR, hay, and water out to her three times a day and brought her bull calf to nurse her morning and night.

To make a long story short, our dedication paid off. After 14 days, Dimple finally stood up. I marked the calendar the day she made it into the barn for her first official milking. Today, you'd never guess she was as close to being ground beef as she was.

Dimple's legacy has been her ability to breed back. This time around, though, I wasn't sure she'd settle so fast, given the rough start to her lactation. She did it, though. It took two services, but the pregnancy test came back positive.

Come June, when Dimple calves for the tenth time, we'll be ready with plenty of calcium and sodium phosphate on hand, just in case.

**Names have been changed to protect the innocent.