You may remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about our new system of raising replacement heifer calves to that they can nurse directly from their mothers. Whimsey is a very fine cow who is healthy, small, and makes good milk. We decided last winter that if she had a heifer this summer, we would allow that heifer to nurse from her through puberty, therefore for the entire lactation (10 months). We were beyond excited when Whimsey did indeed have an adorable little heifer in the beginning of July, who we named Winnie. Winnie lived with Whimsey and the rest of the dairy herd and got to drink milk from her mom as she pleased. We have one other heifer calf who we are raising the same way (Colette, from Clementine) who also lives with the dairy herd.
On Tuesday our vet Melissa was here and noticed that Winnie had a cough. Then on Wednesday evening, Winnie suddenly fell very ill. I had been out that evening and returned to the farm around 8:30pm to see the lights on in the barn. Lights on in the barn in the evening is usually a bad sign – something must be wrong. I went down to find Topher giving IV fluids to a very weak and depleted Winnie laying on her side.
Wednesday evening was a sad night, as Winnie seemed so frail. Topher spoke with the vet on the phone and did everything possible to help revive her. She seemed to be struggling just to breathe. After we did everything we could, I just lay with her on a nice bed of straw for an hour or so thinking healing thoughts and rubbing her body and talking to her.
On Thursday morning we found that she had died in the night. It all seemed to sudden, leaving me worried that there was some kind of serious infection that had swept into the farm and took the smallest of the creatures. Later that afternoon our wonderful vet Melissa came back to do an autopsy.
Melissa cut into Winnie to find that she actually had a heart condition from birth – there was a hole in her heart. In a healthy animal, the blood is pumped from the entire body into the right side of the heart then to the lungs and back to the left side in order to be sent back around to the entire body. However, because of Winnie’s hole between the two sides, blood that was trying to exit the left side actually got pumped backwards into the right side. The backflow caused a backup of blood from her whole body that was trying to get into the right side to be oxygenated. The right side of her heart was much larger than it should have been because it was working so hard. Part of her abdomen, specifically her liver, was also much larger than it should have been, due to the backup of fluids and blood trying to get into the heart.
I am very grateful that Melissa was able to come and do this examination. Melissa is a very thoughtful and patient person, I am glad to have her as our veterinarian. It was fascinating to watch as she cut into Winnie and examined her heart. Melissa carefully explained to me everything we saw inside of Winnie, so that perhaps in the future I could perform a similar autopsy myself.
Losing an animal is always sad. It is especially upsetting to lose just a small sweet calf. In this case, we had decided to raise Winnie in a special and unique way, which added an element of loss to us as a farm. That said, I am relieved that she didn’t get sick because of any type of mismanagement or dangerous infection. She was born with this heart failure and would not be able to live for very long regardless of management. Whimsey definitely felt the loss of her calf, but she got to see Winnie on Thursday morning – she licked her body and seemed to know that Winnie wasn’t coming back. We’ll remember her.