Imagine, hard as it might be, that you’re feeding dinner to six cows each evening. In many ways it’s not that different from feeding dinner to six of anything. It is routine, things look like they always look, and anything out of the ordinary catches your radar. A few evenings ago I caught a major blip on my radar.
Dinner consists of three bales of hay, lightly roasted in last summers’ sun and served on a bed of dried leaves in an April forest. It is paired with a bathtub full of fine New England well water, with only a hint of granite essence. And then I see it, that glaring intruder into the normal routine of bovine dinner for six. There is blood dripping like a faucet from the end of Smokey’s tail, and the end of her tail isn’t where it used to be. More precisely, it’s about a foot shorter than it was at breakfast.
At first I am slightly in shock. Her back legs are covered in blood from wagging the bleeding tail, and what on Earth did this to her? Did a coyote attack her, or did she get it caught on something and pull off the end? Later I will learn that sometimes a cow might step on another cows’ tail when it’s lying down, and when it rises to get away, the end of the tail (called the tail switch) can be severed. Also when rising, a cow can step on one of its own teats causing awful damage. I suppose they could, on rare occasion, step on their own tail. I will never know what happened, but on that drizzly evening in the fading light I quickly turned my attention from shock and awe, to how do I stop this bleeding.
Baling twine. That’s the go to fix on many a farm, and why not try it as a tail tourniquet? I wasn’t sure how many hours she had been bleeding, but the steady, fast dripping could quickly add up to a lot of blood loss. We just finished our maple sugaring season, and a fast dripping maple spile can fill a five-gallon bucket with sap on a single warm day in March. I tied the twine just above the bleeding end, and watched the dripping slow to a stop. I went to bed hopeful but rose extra early from worry.
I went quickly to the pasture and found Smokey bedded down with the other five. My heart sank when I saw the crimson pool of blood beneath her tail. My fifty cent fix had failed, and perhaps now was the time for the $400 emergency vet fix.
Before heading inside to make the phone call, I drew one final straw for frugality (or stupidity) and tried sprinkling a powdered product on the wound called Stop Bleeding. But it didn’t stop bleeding. The flow was too strong. I made the phone call.
The vet was available to come for an emergency visit if I really needed her, but first she made a suggestion. I had told her, somewhat sheepishly, about my baling twine attempt, and she immediately recommended baling twines’ little sister, dental floss. She said baling twine was too thick to get tight enough against the blood vessel, but dental floss should work, tied tightly just a half-inch above the end.
She was right. I put Smokey in a stanchion, cleaned and disinfected the wound, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when that little piece of dental floss stopped the bleeding cold.
After five days in the barn to keep her wound clean and dry, it looks pretty good for the end of a broken cow tail. She will miss that 12 to 18 inch tail switch when fly season starts. I’ve never heard of cow prosthetics, but I can picture a fly swatter, duct tape, and baling twine, of course.
And I’ve taken up flossing again with renewed admiration.