Tuesday December 10th 2013.
I woke up feeling more tired than usual, despite having gone to bed at a decent hour. I had been having nightmares almost all night. Some involved chicken with teeth killing me (this one was inspired by the book I just started in which all of their birds have teeth). Some falling off of haystacks or cliffs. Some pigs or cows stomping me to death. All involved death in one way or another. So I was more tired than I had been in days.
AG and I started on chores by mucking out the dairy barn, we soon realized we didn’t have any new straw to put down, so we went down to the mill barn to get some, and fed the piglets and sows while we were at it. We took the truck down to the barn and walked in to almost dead silence, being before the sun came up all the pigs were still asleep. All of a sudden all the sows woke up and screamed, in my head it sounded like “DIE!!!!” when in reality they were just excited to be fed. But I nearly peed my pants. We finished feeding and getting the straw as fast as we could and went to finish the dairy barn.
We then went to go work with the finishers (pigs) out in the field. They went very quickly, though we could hear the sows still.
Normally when we start at 6 am we get a break after our 8 am meeting to get some more to eat, but this morning Chris asked AG and I to go walk the sheep to look for new lambs so we could bring momma and baby up to the barn to make sure momma gets enough food and baby is healthy. So at around 8:15 we walked out to the sheep expecting maybe a couple new lambs. What we found were 5, all singles, with reluctant mommas who did not want to follow us even though we were carrying their crying babies. We finally got all mommas and babies up, plus one ewe who looked close to giving birth, and another momma who had lost both her twin lambs that Chris is going to try to get her to accept one of the twin lambs born a few days earlier. This would help the mom who lost both stop grieving, and make sure all of the ewes can produce enough milk for their offspring. By the time we got everyone where they needed to be, fed and watered everyone, and cleaned up, it was 10:30
We finally headed inside for breakfast and a shortish break. We were going to wait until around 12-1 to go collect eggs in the hopes that we would be able to collect more so they wouldn’t have a chance to freeze over night.
At 1 we went out to collect and wash the eggs. This all went fine, except that the soy free eggs are finally starting to venture across the snow to try and steal the organic chickens food. So I had to make a bit of a mad dash to feed the soy free girls so they would stay by their trailer. Everything went smoothly and we were done washing by 2:45.
We went inside for a quick bathroom break and back out we went to begin milking and closing (making sure all animals in the barn have water and feeding the calves). Shanti and AG did the actual milking and I worked on other things. When I came back to check if bottles were ready 299 (that is a cows name) had pulled her head out of the stanchion. Most of the cows cannot do this, but some cows just have really small heads. They have had this problem before and so had a trick of adding a 2X4 into the slot to make it smaller. LW (another intern who has done it before) had showed me this trick, she had said she tried to do it in the end farthest stanchion, but didn’t really say why. So when 299 was in the first stanchion I thought it should still work, and since AG had never done it before I offered to help. It was tight, but it had been tight in the last stanchion, and since it was at an angle I figured she still had enough room. She didn’t seem to like it though and tried to go FORWARD into the stanchion, her front feet slipped out from under her (partially because of how icy the floor of the dairy has gotten, despite salt and gravel being put down every time we milk) and she landed on her front knees. Not a big deal, awkward, but she was in no danger. AG and I tried to encourage her to stand back up and she twister her back end sideways and fell onto her side all of her legs sticking straight(ish) out practically parallel to the stanchions, her neck at a practically 90 degree angle to her body. The floor of the dairy is slanted down to make it easy to clean, so not only was her neck at a strange angle, her body was now going down hill. I don’t think that she could breath. As AG worked to try to push her butt back in line so she could stand, we told Shanti to go get Chris, and I tried to get the 2X4 out. Her whole body weight was now on the 2X4, 800 pounds at least. I pulled and pulled and pulled. We began to call for Raul, and prayed Chris would get there soon. I pushed so hard that the 2×4 cracked, and finally I was able to pull the 2X4 free, and I ran around and to AG’s side and we pushed 299 back to her feet and she stood up and pulled her head out of the stanchion. Right then Raul walked in, asked what happened, and AG began to explain. At this point I was out of breath, coming off a major adrenaline rush, shaking, and about to burst into tears. I stood leaning against the gate trying to calm down when Chris came in and again AG explained. They talked about whether or not we should still milk 299 and the decision came that since she wasn’t shaking (the sign that she had been really traumatized) we should. At that point Chris turned to me, saw I was upset and asked if I was okay and I broke. I bawled that I felt responsible for 299 nearly dying because it was my decision to put the 2×4 in and I had been so scared she would die. Chris hugged me and reassured me that I had made the right call right from the start, and that if anything had happened it would have been a very sad accident. No blame was placed, in fact it was the opposite. I began to calm down, but I was still shaking. We finished everything that needed to be done for the night, and I thought about what had happened. Once I was done I called my Mom and replayed the story for her, and broke down once more.
I am doing better today, and 299 is fine, but that was one of the scariest moments, minutes, of my life. Having this animals life hanging in the balance, in my hands, was terrifying. It is all a learning experience, and I will take a lot from it for sure, because I NEVER want to have that happen again.