In late February or early March, Wilbur was purchased at an auction, by an agent of our friend and neighbor, Mr. Beiler. He was purchased with several other bull calves with the intent to have his son raise them for a while and sell them for a small profit. He was only a few days old when he arrived and smaller than the others that were purchased at the same time. We all noticed right away that he couldn’t bear weight on one of his hind legs and two of the joints appeared swollen and warm. His appetite was great and his demeanor was pleasant, although he never ever made a sound. Most calves will moo excitedly as the anticipate their twice daily bottle, but Wilbur never said a word. After a few weeks, the swelling went away and he could stand on all four legs. At this point, the calves were still in their stalls and not able to walk around much yet. He was difficult to wean, more difficult than his counterparts. In fact, by the time he was fully weaned, most of his buddies had already been sold. Once weaned, he was able to be turned out during the day and brought in at night. To get in and out, he had to step over a row of cinder blocks stacked two high. He had great difficulty doing this and would occasionally stumble and fall. He was always reluctant to expend too much energy. I joked saying that he looked like a 100 year old arthritic man.
Around this time, I named him Wilbur (because I am convinced that he will be like the pig in Charlotte’s Web going from a runty little guy to the fair champion), and began to give him a little extra care. Whenever I had time, I would put a halter on him, brush him, and feed him a little extra. I decided to do some research and see if I could figure out what might be wrong with the little guy. Based on his symptoms, I came up with something called “joint ill” or an infection called mycoplasma. Both of these ailments, especially the mycoplasma, need an expensive antibiotic called, Draxxin.
Both infections have a fairly good prognosis if treated early. Wilbur was already about 4 months old and had had no medical intervention yet. I spoke to Mr. Beiler about it, but he (very wisely) didn’t want to invest more into the calf than he was worth at market value. I understood that completely and simply continued to care for him and enjoy my time with him. By late August, he had gotten a little worse. Having more difficulty getting out to the pasture over the cinder blocks and laying down more than he was up grazing. Once again, I brought the subject of Wilbur’s health up to Mr. Beiler. Even though it was certainly not an economically smart decision to consider getting this calf fixed (he’s not in the business of having pet calves, you know), he graciously called the vet and discussed the case over the phone. I was also able to contact a veterinarian friend of mine from my college days (had not spoken to him in 20 years!!!) and both vets agreed that it sounded like “joint ill” or mycoplasma. The medication cost more than what Wilbur was worth! I spoke with Chris about it, and even though I didn’t feel right about spending so much on him given our current financial situation, Chris said we could buy it. My latest joke is that Chris gave me a cow for our 15th anniversary that came only a few days after the decision to purchase the antibiotic. So the morning after Chris gave me the okay to buy the medication, I told Mr. Beiler and agreed to take over his care as well as take him with us when we leave. Mr. Beiler agreed and we got ourselves a cow. Even though it is not a financially sound decision on a farmer’s part, Mr. Beiler picked up the medication for us and wouldn’t tell me how much it cost. He is such a kind man!
A few days prior to starting the antibiotic, Wilbur became lame on his other hind leg. This time, there does not appear to be any swelling. Palpation of his spine does not illicit a painful response and I can put his leg through a full range of motion. If I put my hands on his hips to help him along, I can feel something crunching or grinding in his pelvic area. Did he get hurt by the bigger calves that he was turned out with? Is this an injury separate from the initial infection or is this the infection affecting a different joint?
Two months later and Wilbur has slowly declined in his physical ability. The antibiotic seemed to help, but as he has grown, he is having more and more difficulty standing without assistance and walking. The sweet little thing is so perky and hungry that it is making this a very confusing situation for me. He is currently on another course of Draxxin and has started on a prescribed anti-inflammatory to see if it helps his mobility, which I’m happy to say that it has helped a little bit. The biggest hindrance to his mobility appears to be his right hind leg which seems injured in some way. This past Sunday, I was ready to call the vet on Monday morning and have him put down. Even though his demeanor seems chipper and content, he had been having a terrible time taking even a few steps. Our whole family went out to the field, laid hands on him, and prayed for him. The very next morning, he walked more than he had in about two weeks! I decided it was not time to put him down yet.
The problem that I am having is that I don’t know what is really wrong with him. I am a horse person, not a cow person and therefore don’t have a strong background in cow illness. I can’t understand why he is so hungry, perky, growing, and content, if he is suffering. And if he is not suffering, what is keeping him from standing? I have tried to remain as clinical as I can without getting too attached. I do love him, but I am willing to let him go if it would be best for him. I don’t want to be the one keeping him alive and having him suffer because of my heart and desire for him. He is, of course, well loved and pampered! We even started giving him a bottle twice a day again because he enjoys it so very much and the extra calories certainly don't hurt him.
If he has “joint ill”, it can cause septic arthritis. The joints can be so damaged by the infection that they deteriorate. As he grows, his joints become weaker. As I have been contemplating his future, the idea came to me that maybe he just needs some help with mobility and stability of his hind end. I began to look online to see if anyone else has ever been crazy enough to consider a cart-type contraption for a cow. You know the little dog wheelchairs that help dogs get around? Why can’t one be made for a cow? Turns out I am not the first person to consider this, thank goodness! What if his joints aren’t as ravaged as they could be and he just needs support for his hind end? So I called the vet and asked some questions because I can't move forward with a campaign to get the little guy some wheels if I don't know if they will help him or not. The vet I spoke to was so sweet and never once let on that she thought I was totally nuts – lol! I discussed his case with her and asked for an estimate to try to determine what is exactly going on with him. If we take him to the clinic, they can do an exam, some bloodwork, and some x-rays for an estimated $250.
If we are able to make this vet appointment happen, I see it going one of two ways. The workup will show that something is wrong that cannot be fixed or supported throughout his life and we will put him down while he’s there. OR, it will be determined that he can live a decent life with the support of a wheelchair and we will start a “Wheels for Wilbur” campaign – lol!!! He could be Augusta County’s first therapy cow! Could you imagine how God could use him? The thought of that is very exciting, especially since we don’t have our own farm for horses yet. At least we can start ministering to people with Wilbur.
As much as we love Wilbur, with our financial situation, we cannot, in good conscience, put more money into him than we already have. I am asking for your help. If you are able to and feel lead to get to the bottom of the mystery of Wilbur’s health, would you consider helping me raise the $250 for the vet visit? I know that there are so many worthy causes to give money to, especially at this time of year, but I also know that this little calf has already touched lives. I would like to give him every opportunity to continue to do that.
If you would like to donate, you can send it through Paypal on our web site’s “donate” button; just indicate that the money is intended for Wilbur, you can simply mail it, drop by in person so you can meet Wilbur, or call Westwood Animal Hospital and tell them that you would like to put it on my account. Their phone number is 540-337-6200 and the name on the account is Jen Beck. All funds raised will go immediately towards the vet appointment, but any overage will go towards Wilbur's care, which currently consists of grain, medication, fly spray, and some bedding. Be sure to check out his new page on our web site and subscribe to the blog so you can stay updated on his condition.
Thank you all so very much! Would you pray for us as we try to help Wilbur? Pray that we are open to God’s will in this situation and not our own and that we have peace with whatever decisions need to be made. Pray also, that even if Wilbur is not with us for long, that God will use his story to reach people; even if it is only one soul.
Dr. Seuss said, "to the world, you may be one person; but to one person, you may be the world".