September 5, 2012 about 6 pm my husband, Ed, had just finished milking cows and went looking on our pasture hill for a cow that hadn't come down. He was concerned because when pregnant cows don't come down its usually because they've delivered their calf. This cow wasn't due for another 2 months though. Ed called me on his way down and said he was bringing a calf down to the house. The cow had, in fact, delivered twins 8 weeks early. One was stillborn, and the other was barely alive. Ed said the surviving calf was laying partway down a hill, just staring, but breathing. He said that in all of his life, he'd never seen a calf this little survive. Ed brought him into the house, and this is the picture I took:
In the picture above we brought in Gus, one of our dogs that's a beagle/heeler mix , for a size comparison. Gus was bigger than this calf. The calf is a holstein/brown swiss mix. At full-term he should weigh between 80 to 100 lbs at birth. This little guy was under 20 lbs! He is so weak and fragile, we figured he wouldn't survive the night. He has virtually no muscle control. He can't sit up or stand. He moves his head in an uncontrolled, jerky way and his body has muscle spasms. His ears are pointy and not completely formed and his eyes are swollen and barely open. He has no teeth and his hooves are very soft on top and bottom. Instead of hair, his body is covered in a grey,velvety fuzz. He's cool to the touch. We knew that if he had any chance at all of surviving that he needed the colostrum from his mother's milk, so Ed, our oldest son Andrew, and I brought her down to the barn and Ed milked her. We put some of her milk in a calf bottle and as soon as I put the nipple in his mouth, the little bull started sucking! He drank about 6 oz, but the nipple is waaay to big for him. He was so weak that I had to hold his head up to feed him because he can't hold his head up on his own. I sat with him most of the night, but he didn't move much and was barely breathing. He has such a pretty face and just stares up at you. It just breaks my heart! I researched everything I could find on the internet about caring for premature calves, but went up to bed around 3 am figuring Ed would find him dead in the morning. Everything I read said that it was impossible for a calf 8 weeks premature to survive. Their lungs aren't developed enough and they can't control their body temperature. I called Gus out of the room, but he laid down by the calf and wouldn't leave him. The next morning, we were stunned to find the little calf still alive! He drank 6 more oz of his mother's milk before I left for work. We put him in a circular baby gate, and when the sun came out, Ed moved him outside to keep him warm:
Ed put the cover on the top so the calf wouldn't get overheated by the direct sunlight and put stones on so it wouldn't blow away. Gus would not leave the gate. He wouldn't let any of the other dogs near it either! Ed went to Agway and got the calf a smaller nipple. One made for goats. It fits on a pop bottle. This works much better:
He made it through another night, but he definitely has diarrhea. We know we need to do something fast or this will kill him. We called the vet, who said that he wasn't surprised that this happened. His digestive system is probably just not developed enough. Well, we refused to quit trying! This little guy certainly wasn't giving up! We gave him some liquid medicine for the diarrhea and switched to regular cow's milk. His mother's milk was just too rich. We are feeding him only 2-3 oz every 3 hours and giving him water in between to prevent dehydration. He's alert, but really not doing well. I keep checking his skin, eyes, and mouth for signs of dehydration, but don't see any yet. He's just so weak. I ask everyone on Facebook to pray for him again. I stay up with him most of the night. I feel so helpless. I just don't know what else to do to help him. When I look at him, he's just the sweetest thing! He looks at you with those big eyes and you melt. I feel like he needs a name. Even if he only lives for a few days, he deserves a name. I look up biblical names. Amos is one of the first ones I come to, and it means "strength" and "love". This is perfect for him! So, Amos he is!
The next morning, he still has diarrhea so Ed gives him half of a pill we give our other calves for scours. It also has an antibiotic in it. Ed called me at work because he had a really hard time rousing Amos and his body was cold to the touch. We thought he was dying. But, by the end of the day, he no longer has diarrhea and he even seems a little stronger! He throws himself around, so we keep him in a pen of straw we made with the baby gate. He's living in the breezeway of my house with Gus always keeping vigil:
He's becoming much more alert and even trying to stand! If I hold him up, he moves his legs like he's trying to walk. He still can't weight-bare yet, but he keeps trying. His appetite is really good.
By Sunday, the 9th he hasn't pooped in 24 hrs. Now I'm worried that he's constipated! He's had lots of visitors. Kelly (Andrew's girlfriend) and JJ (our family friend...best family friend or she'll get mad!) bought Amos a stuffed pig toy so he isn't alone in his pen! Best of all, Amos stood on his own and even took a few steps today! He was sooooo happy! His little tail was even wagging:
On Monday, Ed has to go to the pharmacy for stool softener suppositories. We can't use a laxative and risk diarrhea again, but he has to go! Ed had an interesting time explaining this situation to the pharmacists! But, it was worth it - the suppositories worked! Amos pooped and it was solid! I'm going to use Karo in his bottles from now on. Amos continues to progress through the week, and by the time he's one week old, he's drinking 10 oz of milk three times a day! His breathing has a bit of a rattle to it at times and he has a runny nose. I'm so afraid of aspiration pneumonia. That seems to be his biggest risk. The vet is coming to see him Thursday. I phoned Penn State and Ohio State to see if they could recommend anything that I could be doing better. The vet from Ohio State argued with me that Amos could not be 8 weeks premature and survive, but after I described him in detail she was shocked. Then she told me he needed x-rays and blood work and should be raised in a sterile, hospital-like setting. She even suggested that I bring him there to raise. I told her absolutely not! She then told me not to get my hopes up because he probably wouldn't survive. I told her that I doubted that any of them would lay in his pen with him and hold him like we do, so if he was going to die, it would be with people who love him! I told my husband that if everybody in Ohio was that negative and narrow-minded it was no wonder the Browns stink at football! The vet, Jeff Bissett, comes over and says that he's still shocked that Amos survived. Most calves this premature only live a few hours. But, his heart and lungs are clear and strong! He does have an infection in his belly button, so he gave us medicine and iodine for that and put him on a low-dose antibiotic just in case. He also switched the Karo to mineral oil. He said ecoli is the biggest threat, so we need to sanitize his bottles and nipple with the dishwasher or a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Amos continues to grow and thrive for the first two weeks of his life. Everyone on Facebook calls him a miracle! Then, at two weeks old, we almost lose him....