Scenes from country life: Drop dead heifer

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on

One of my heifers had been panting and frothing and isolating herself for a couple days. My neighbor Albert and I got her in the pen  and dosed her with Nufluor Tuesday, but Wednesday she looked much worse, so we loaded her on the trailer and ran her to the vet right before closing. The assistant immediately saw she was choking on something, probably a hedge apple stuck in the esophagus. The vet ran the equivalent of a plumber’s snake down her and seemed pretty satisfied that he had pushed the hedge apple through.

“Those hedge apples are a bad deal, especially October and November,” the assistant said.

“Maybe I should pick ’em all up and get them out of my pastures?” I asked.

He and Albert laughed. “Let me know how that goes….”

The vet kept at it with the snake for quite a while, then forced some electrolytes down in another tube. A few doses of antibiotics. She should be fine, as long as there were no perforations in the esophagus. Barring that, or a secondary pneumonia, she should be better by tomorrow. She still looked to be in bad shape, but I was feeling pretty optimistic when we ran her off the trailer.

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on

At dusk I went to check on her and she was panting more heavily than ever. She staggered unsteadily to the woven wire fence, leaned there for a few seconds, then tumbled over sideways, shuddered, and died on the spot! In my past experience with bovines passing from this world, the process has always been a slow, unbearable (for me) struggle, so this was a surprise. The  heifer laid down and stopped panting, and that was it. I peeled back an eyelid: that massive glassy cow eyeball staring back at nothing.

I texted my other neighbor Dave (“well damn that heifer fell over and died right in front of me”). He was out with his tractor so he volunteered to come and drag the heifer in front of the gate so the dead truck could winch her up and cart her off.

I sat on an old bush hog in the dark waiting for Dave, along with two cats: Marshmallow, an older orange tabby male, and a new kitten (as yet unnamed) who had forced herself into our family a few weeks back, with great persistence and overwhelming cuteness. Marshmallow hates the kitten and hisses at her whenever she approaches, but the kitten, being a kitten. doesn’t take it personally and tries to play with him anyway. Both were purring like cicadas. I made a note to sit outside in the dark with the cats more often.

The heifer was in a sort of awkward spot but we got a chain around her neck and Dave dragged her out backwards. The bright amber lights, the roaring engine, and the backup beeping made his John Deere seem like some cheap sci-fi monster. Dave and I chatted for a bit. He was feeling overwhelmed as usual–“I’m movin’ hay and got those stumps ground and drowned that skunk [wait, what skunk?!], and … I’ve just got too much to do. My nerves can’t take it.” As always, though, he made a point of saying, “I don’t care to help you out when I can.” (In Kentucky this means he doesn’t mind. That one took me a while.)

While we spoke, the kitten was circling and sniffing at the great fallen beast.


This is not the first time I’ve written about dying bovines and the dead truck. Here is “Waiting for the Dead Truck” from a few years back.

Scenes from country life: Drop dead heifer

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