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Because they'd be just too upsetting.

The life of a farmer isn't always an easy one, and today has been one of those days. To start with I needed to fix the Quad Bike, which refused to start the day before yesterday, leaving me stranded at the top of Norman's Law. A new spark plug and fuel filter seem to have sorted that, but I took the opportunity to fix the rear brakes, which had been squeaking like a cauldron full of angry mice. Thus it was nearer eleven than ten when I finally made it up the hill to check on the cows.

I've been concerned about Siobhan Ruadh, the last of the calves, for a little while now. It's difficult to tell whether something's not right when you see a three week old calf alongside a four month old one. The younger one's always going to look a bit thin and weedy. She was suckling OK, but seemed to spend a lot more time hidden away snoozing than was perhaps right.

Today I thought I'd get a little closer, and I'm glad I did. I could tell from ten yards away that she wasn't happy - the smell was a dead giveaway too. Catching her was pretty easy as well, which at that age it shouldn't have been. She looked a bit thin, but I was mostly worried by the wet matting to her fur on one side. I thought maybe she'd been attacked, though it could just have been because we've had five inches of rain since she was born three weeks ago.

What it was, when I got too close to be really happy about it, was fly-strike.

For those of you who don't know what fly-strike is, maybe take a while to google it. I'd recommend you not do an image search unless you're strong of disposition. Essentially what happens is that flies descend upon a calf (or sheep, where it's more prevalent), find a spot that's a bit shitty, or maybe a wound, and lay their eggs in it. These hatch, and the maggots go to work, turning eventually into flies that lay eggs and so on, and so on. Untreated, an animal can quite literally be eaten to death by maggots. Poor young Siobhan was well on her way there.

I rushed back down off the hill, hitched up the stock trailer and went back up again, only to find that the fold had moved on and Siobhan had once more gone into hiding. Eventually I found her, then half dragged, half-carried her to the trailer. Mum, Iolair Lal, was concerned and I'd high hopes she'd follow me in. Bringing both down would mean I could keep them close by for daily inspection. Alas, that was not to be. I spent an hour trying to coax her in before deciding that the calf''s situation wouldn't be made any worse by being away from her mum for a day. I've got plenty of milk powder left over from the last time, after all.

The vet came very quickly, though his face fell when I told him what it was. 'I hate maggots,' he said, and I can understand why. I hate them too now. He had a student with him who may well now decide to pursue a career in accountancy. The three of us spent about forty-five minutes with a hose, some insecticide and latex-gloved hands, slowly ridding poor Siobhan of the wriggly little bastards. We had to stop before we'd got them all as she was starting to get cold.

The vet gave her antibiotic and anti-inflammatory jabs, and suggested that given the severity of the infestation, the best thing to do would be to give her a bath in organo-phosphate dip. This is more normally used for sheep, and rapidly going out of fashion on account of its general nastiness. It is very effective though. I don't have a licence to use OP dips, and so can't buy it. I also only needed a cupful, rather than the ten litres which is the minimum size it seems to come in. Fortunately I was able to procure a cupful from a neighbouring farmer (which is very naughty, children, and you should never do it at home.)

Figuring it was a bit mean to keep washing her, I gave Siobhan a bottle of milk first. After my struggles earlier in the year, I didn't hold out much hope of her taking it, but she chugged it down. Obviously very hungry. I gave her an hour or so to settle, then went in with the OP.

This involved first making sure I was dressed from head to toe in waterproof gear. Latex gloves under a pair of marigolds and a splash mask to stop the stuff getting on my face and in my hair. It's seriously nasty - basically the same chemical as goes into nerve gas. Lovely.

Suitably dressed, I then proceeded to sponge bath Siobhan with ten litres of OP dip, making sure she was thoroughly soaked through all over, and paying special attention to the navel. This is a common target for flies on new-born calves, as it's sticky and bloody. The maggots had burrowed in around it - I will say no more as it's particularly unpleasant and distressing.

She's in the shed now, bedded down in thick straw and slowly drying out. The horrible rotting smell that surrounded her when I first found the maggots has more or less gone, replaced with the creosote tang of dip. I know which one I prefer, even if it does give me a bastard of a headache. I tried giving her a late feed, but she was too sleepy. I hope that's a good sign.

Tomorrow morning I'll bottle feed her one more time, apply a systemic insecticide that should keep the flies off her for at least six weeks, and take her back up the hill to her mum. Hopefully she'll make a full recovery, although at present she's quite bald in places. I'm told that will grow back.

This is the downside of late calving (and lambing). With the weather as wet as it has been, and warm with it, the flies are everywhere. They don't need much to get a foothold on an animal, and a very young calf is extremely vulnerable. Next year we're not due to start calving until May, so I'll have to be even more vigilant, especially if we have a repeat of the weather we've had this year.

Who'd be a farmer, eh?


Ellen said…
I had that happen to a rabbit once. Nasty business, that. Needless to say, the rabbit did not survive (he was a lovely black Rex called Eodipus). Hope all turns out well for Siobhan.
terlee said…
Oh the poor wee thing. I hope this turns out okay.

I don't think there's much worse than a voracious swarm of maggots. Just the thought makes my skin crawl. And thanks so much for NOT posting photos.

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