“Hello? We’ve got a newborn calf who doesn’t look good… Mind coming out?” Two students and I gather some milk replacer and jump into the truck, and speed off towards the small hobby beef operation. We clamber out of the truck, our many layers keeping us warm in the late winter weather but making us all a little clumsy. As we follow the farmer, we learn that the bull calf was born sometime overnight, and was found wet and lying the snow this morning. The farmer initially thought the calf was dead, he was so still and cold, but when carried to the barn the calf began weakly stirring.
The bull calf was lying flat-out on a tarp in the barn, his skin soaked and icy to the touch, and his heart rate dangerously low. We jumped into action, attempting to resuscitate the newborn calf by rewarming him and giving IV fluids to raise his blood pressure and improve circulation. Once in the truck with the heat blasting, we rubbed him down with towels and took his temperature…which measured <90 degrees on the mercury thermometer. One student was placed on drying duty, wielding a hairdryer to finish drying his coat. Two students assisted the clinician as she attempted to place an IV catheter in the calf’s jugular vein.
Over the course of 2 hours, our rewarming efforts paid off and his temperature rose to a normal 99 degrees. But the bull calf’s blood pressure was so low it made placing an IV catheter next to impossible. Multiple attempts to place an IV catheter proved fruitless, especially as his blood pressure and heart rate continued to drop. We knew we were beaten when the bull calf’s gums changed from pink to grey to blue, indicating poor tissue perfusion and oxygenation. It was a somber scene, all four of us unwilling to stop our resuscitation efforts but knowing he was dying despite them. We stood witness as his heart rate slowed and his breaths grew irregular, and he died.
I was crushed and shaken, and overwhelmingly sad. It was hard enough to deal with the death of a newborn, but it was the hope inspired by his successful rewarming that really broke me. We were so close to making it. He was so close to making it.