Dealing with Death on the Ranch

Cows at sunset in Kansas
Thinking about peaceful times during sadness on the ranch.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the miraculous discovery of a calf being born on the ranch. It’s an amazing part of my life which I don’t take for granted and thoroughly enjoy.

However, along with life comes death. There are unfortunate events and uncontrollable circumstances on the ranch that can lead to devastation and heartbreak. One such event happened almost two weeks ago and I’m just now comfortable enough to share it with you.

Saturday morning, I had plans to be at a professional development event in the Flint Hills. I was up early to go do chores in order to be on the road in time when I happened upon a downed cow. To clarify, a downed cow is not a cow that is just simply lying down resting or giving birth. A downed cow is one that is down and cannot get up. Pushing, pulling etc does nothing for a downed cow – she is not getting up, because she is unable to do so. This is not a good sign.

The Ninja was traveling and I was by myself so after trying multiple times to unsuccessfully get her up, I resorted to calling the vet. Now, I have to share that am very blessed to have a talented veterinarian at my fingertips, who also happens to be my mother-in-law, however she lives roughly 12 hours away and after talking to her, we decided that our local vet needed to be called out. We have a good relationship with the veterinarian’s office in our nearby town – they have been providing service to my family for nearly 30 years so it’s safe to say I trust them with our animals. The vet arrived and assessed the situation: he took the cow’s temperature, rectally checked her for internal bleeding or cancer and evaluated her condition. His decision was to give the cow CMPK, which is an acronym for Calcium-Magnesium-Phosphorus-Potassium-Dextrose. This treatment is intended to supplement these key nutrients in the event of grass tetany, milk fever and other deficiency-caused issues.

After giving the CMPK, the vet decided we should try to roll the cow onto her other side so we could try getting her up a different way – once she had rolled, our vet immediately discovered the problem. She had a broken leg.

A cow is not like a human, you cannot put a cast on a cow’s leg, sign the cast and have a perfectly good cow in 12 weeks. A broken leg on a cow is a death sentence. She needed to be euthanized, in order to put her out of her misery (a broken leg is obviously painful).

Watching the euthanasia of an otherwise perfectly healthy animal was extremely difficult for me to do. I didn’t euthanize the cow, because I have never done that before, however I know that unfortunately I will at some point have to carry out this unavoidable task in the future. I’m dreading that day.

After humanely euthanizing the cow, I called a friendly neighbor who came and dug a large hole and we buried the cow. We disposed of the body this way in order to prevent a strong stench and to ward off varmints and scavengers (aka coyotes) from creeping up to get at the carcass.

It was obviously a sad day, not just because we lost a cow. But also because we lost her calf as well – this cow had not yet calved and the calf wasn’t far enough along to be saved. So we lost two lives that day, which is sad because I don’t enjoy death. But also, we lost the price we would have gotten for the calf, we lost our original investment in the cow and we lost future returns on calves the cow would have produced in subsequent years. Remember that we love this lifestyle and raising cattle but we also must make a profit to stay in business. And it’s difficult to have a strong ROI if our assets are not alive and well.

We have still not figured out how or where in our pasture the cow broke her leg. The dogs were not chasing her and we don’t have large cliffs or drop-offs in our pastures. Just unlucky, I suppose.

Oh, and if it wasn’t already clear, I missed my event and then had the added displeasure of having to call and cancel my commitment to help. Thankfully it was a ranching-focused event, so they understood the last-minute nature of the emergency but it still sucks to have to flake out on something I was looking forward to. Such is the life of the farming and ranching community – plans are never “set in stone” because something like this can happen at any such time.

So here we are, one less cow and a lot more sadness. We start each day with a prayer and a hopeful outlook that we will be able to manage and raise our cattle safely and in a way that allows them to thrive – but even we can’t avoid freak accidents. We will try to learn from this loss and keep praying for guidance and wisdom as we build our ranch.

Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~



7 responses to “Dealing with Death on the Ranch”

  1. So sorry for your loss! Such an unfortunate incident.

    1. Avatar

      Thank you, Missy! Hoping things smooth out in the future.

  2. Janet McFadin Avatar
    Janet McFadin

    I’m so sorry for your loss. No matter how many head of cattle you own, it’s always hard to handle. We have a trucking company that hauls livestock besides running cattle on our ranch and it always seems when my better half is gone something like this happens. I know how hard it is to handle this by yourself and feeling like you didn’t do all you could. It seems like we always have some kind of trouble like this on Sunday morning before church! I always say it’s the Devil trying us! Best wishes!

    1. Avatar

      Thanks for your kind words, Janet. It was definitely troubling but hopefully we have a very long time before we have to deal with this again! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. People often ask me, “What’s a typical day on the ranch like?”, My answer is, there is no such thing. 😉 I hate losing a cow, or a calf, and when we get into the throes of calving season and can’t save a calf or a cow, the next one we do get saved, means that much more. I get it. Hopefully your bad luck for the year is done.

    1. Avatar

      I sure hope our bad luck for 2016 is done too, Jenn. Thanks for reading and I hope things go smoothly for you up north!

  4. Jessica Decker Avatar
    Jessica Decker

    We had to put down a cow for the exact same reason last week. She was pregnant as well. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to lose two lives due to such a freak accident.

    1. Avatar

      So sad and frustrating – sorry for your loss, Jessica! Thanks for reading.