The calf had to come out or both it and the mother would die. Since it was obvious that Mama Cow was not going to be able to push her offspring out, I was going to have to help. “Luke, I need your car.”
“What for?”, he asked.
“I need to go to that vet clinic and get chains to pull the calf with.”
“You can’t do that on your broken foot!”
“I’m not going to do the pulling!”
“Oh, no no no no no no no!”
“If you won’t, then I will! If neither of us does, both her and her calf will die. Do you want fresh milk for your coffee?” He had been using that Coffee Mate crap. “And fresh butter … and ice cream?” That got him. “Ok, but I will go with you.”
“You need to stay here and make sure Mom doesn’t wander off.”
“How can I stop her?”
“I need rope. I’m sure there’s some on the fire truck.”
He went and found some. I sat on the driver’s side of his car and made a halter out of some of the rope, then I got out and slipped it over the cow’s head. It was obvious she had been handled before. Most beef cattle are not so tame. Perhaps she had been someone’s 4H project. I suspected this was her first calf which would mean she was only 2 or maybe 3 years old.
I tied another piece of rope to the halter. “Hold onto it”, I instructed Luke. “Talk to her, make her feel at ease. Maybe get her a bucket of water, I bet she is thirsty.”
“How can I get her a bucket of water if I have to hold onto the rope?”
“Tie her to a fence post over there.” I gestured to the pasture on one side of the fire station. “I need your keys.”
He handed me his keys and I got in the car, started it and peeled rubber leaving the station. I normally drive within the speed limit - well, the pre-apocalypse limit - but this time I went as fast as I dared to without risking an accident. Time was of the essence if I wanted to save the calf.
When I got to the vet clinic, I drove around back and pulled up to one of the SUVs. Fortunately, it was unlocked - probably for a quick getaway on an emergency call. Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to locate some chains. I grabbed them and a calf jack in case I needed it. It was a little awkward on my crutches, but I managed.
Back at the fire station, I noticed Luke had managed to take Mama Cow to the pasture fence and tie her there. A bucket of water was in front of her. “Did she drink?” I asked him.
“About half the bucket.”
“She was thirsty. Can you get the calf jack and chains? It‘s awkward carrying them with these crutches.” I tried to reached inside the cow, but there was no room, so I pushed the calf back into her uterus. I stuck a couple fingers inside it’s mouth. It started to suck on them. “Calf is alive”, I said.
“How do you know?” he asked as he approached with the equipment.
“It’s sucking on my fingers.” Next, I checked it’s position. “It’s in the proper birthing position, just can’t get out. I’m guessing Mama is a heifer.”
“What does that mean?”
“That it’s her first calf. People breed - well, bred - them so young and they weren’t finished growing when they had their first calf so it wasn’t unusual for the calf to be too big to get through the pelvis. It used to piss me off.”
“When did you breed yours?”
“At two and a half to three. We took a lot of flack for it in the dairy community, but we had far fewer birthing problems with the heifers.”
The heifer had partially pushed the calf out again as soon as I took my hand out of her. I put the chains on it’s lower legs above and below the fetlocks, and gave the handles to Luke. “Now, pull on one leg a bit, then the other. Do not pull on both together. You want each shoulder to come through the pelvis separately.”
“Juliana, you’re standing on your broken foot!”
“I had to, I couldn’t balance myself. Don’t worry about that, just help get this calf out!”
With my guidance, he did great and the calf was soon on the ground. “Help me down”, I said to him.
“Onto the ground?”
“Yes, I have to get the chains off and clear it’s mouth.” Luke helped me get down and I cleared the mucus out of the calf’s mouth, then checked to see what it was. “It’s a heifer!”, I said with enthusiasm. "She will help with bovine repopulation!”
“If there’s a male around.”
“When she goes into season, if there’s a bull anywhere in the vicinity, he will come calling. Ditto for when Mama goes into season again, which should be in about 3 or 4 months. I need some towels to rub her dry with. Can you please get me some?”
“The mother is licking her.” I had untied her as soon as the calf was out.
“I know, but it’s quite cool. I’d just like to help get her dry faster.”
While he was gone, I thought about what to do with Mom and baby. I didn’t like the idea of leaving them anywhere outside, as there was no protection from predators since they were alone without a herd. They needed to be inside which meant either getting them to a neighbouring farm with a barn, or putting them in the vehicle bay. I doubted Luke would go for the latter.
When he returned with towels, I talked to him while I rubbed the baby down. “Where are we going to put them?”
“How about that pasture?”
“No protection from predators. They will smell the blood from the birthing and be here like flies on shit. I‘m thinking of the farm across the street. I‘ve been wanting to check it out anyway.”
“How are you going to get them there? YOU can’t walk.”
“You can. I can drive the car over.”
“What about the calf?”
“She’ll follow Mama if we wait until she’s on her feet. Or we can put her in the car.”
“We’ll wait until she’s on her feet.”
“It’s starting to get dark. Let’s get them over there.”
Luke sighed. “I guess I’m probably outvoted, if you count their votes.”
To his credit, he picked the calf up and put her in the back seat. Mama Cow had followed him to the car. He picked up the rope that was attached to her halter. “You might want to take that off”, I advised.
“When I start driving, she’s going to be right behind me. And she will be running because her baby is in the car. No need to worry about her running off. In fact, you might as well get in. Oh, maybe grab those flashlights first.” Mama was already mooing at the rear door.
Luke got the flashlights, then got in the passenger side and I drove off. As expected, the cow, who was no longer a heifer, followed at a run. We had a stroke of luck at the farm across the road. No dead animals - the pasture gate was open so I assumed the farmer had let any animals that were still alive loose to fend for themselves. I didn’t see an carcasses in the pasture, but wild animals would have taken care of them long ago, if there had been any. I went into the barn to check it out. Using crutches and a flashlight at the same time is not easy. Luke was right behind me with his flashlight.
The barn was empty. Luke got the calf out of the car and put her on the floor. Mama was all over her, making sure we had not harmed her.
The stalls were clean, but there was no bedding in them. I located some bales of straw and hay and instructed Luke on how to toss the straw with a pitchfork to make a comfortable bed, while I checked the automatic watering system to make sure Mama would have a constant supply. It worked, so there must be a power source somewhere. Solar panels, I presumed.
“I suppose I get to clean it tomorrow?”
“You’re learning, my newfound friend. Just think of the fresh milk we’ll have in a few days.”
“A few days??”
“Yes, unless you want to drink colostrum.” He made a face.
Once Mama and baby were bedded down with a bucket of water and some hay, Luke and I drove back to the station. “I need a new car”, he said on the way.
“I’m sorry about the mess in here.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not actually my car, just one I picked up the last couple hours before I came across your wreck.”
“Yours break down?”
“No, ran out of gas. I don’t know how to siphon.”
“Oh, my goodness. I need to teach you how.”
Once back at the station, the first thing we did was have a shower. I couldn’t put the boot back on as it was dirty. I cleaned it, then left it to dry and went out to the kitchen. Luke wanted to check my foot. He determined that the broken bone was still in place and re-wrapped it with a clean wrap. “You are lucky. I was going to put a cast on if I had to reset it.”
Good luck with that, I thought. Instead of vocalizing it, I said “I’m off to bed, I’m beat.”
“I’m sure you are! I am, too.”
The next morning, we were up early. We had to go check on the cow and her calf. Coffee first, though.
“What are your plans for them?” Luke asked me.
“Keep them”, I replied. “We can use the milk. The biggest problem is feeding them.”
“I saw quite a bit of hay in the barn.”
“Do you know how much one cow eats? Besides, it’s last year’s, the world went to shit before the first hay cutting of the season. Hay loses nutrition with time, but we don’t have much choice for this winter. I’ll see if there’s grain around, that would at least help. Next spring, if we decide to stick around, I can cut hay. If we decide to leave this area, we’ll have to decide whether to take them with us or leave them behind.”
After our coffee, we went across the road. I got Luke to open the pasture gate and let Mama and her offspring out of the barn for the day. I directed Luke on how to clean a stall, then went exploring. Out beyond the house’s back yard, I saw a bunch of solar panels. There was a truck in front of the barn, but no car. I wondered if there were bodies in the house. If not, this might be somewhere to stay for the winter, if there was a heat source.
In the backyard was what appeared to have been a very large garden. I started to walk over to it when I noticed some birds on the ground. I got closer and they did not fly away. They were chickens! How on earth had they managed to not get eaten by predators the last six months? This was another stroke of luck. If we could catch them, we’d have eggs.
I got closer to the garden and they didn’t act afraid at all. I could see that some plants had grown - presumably from seeds in compost. There were some tomatoes, though not a lot that were ripe as it was September, almost the end of the growing season. And it had been too cool with not enough sun for them to ripen. But there were a few pumpkins ripening and some acorn and butternut squash. They wouldn’t last us through the winter, but they would last a few weeks. And we could fry up the green tomatoes.
Luke came looking for me. “Hey, come see what I found”, I called to him. I showed him the chickens and the vegetables.
“How do we catch them?” he asked.
“With food. We need to look for chicken feed. And find out where they were housed.”
We went back to the barn and located the chicken feed. There was a huge barrel of it, almost full. We’d have to look for a feed store and see if we could find more. Hopefully, vermin hadn’t got it all. Next, we found the area of the barn that served as the chicken coop.
“Something else for me to clean.”
“You got it. Until my foot heals, then I can do it. Let’s get these feeders filled, and I’ll check the waterer to make sure it’s working.” Once that was done, I had Luke get a bowl of feed and we went out to the garden. He threw a wee bit down and the chickens gravitated toward it. I counted 11. Luke and I made our way to the coop in the barn. Once they were all in, he closed the door. “With any kind of luck, we’ll have fresh eggs tomorrow or the next day.”
“It seems like forever since I’ve had an omelette”, he said.
“Same here. Or fried eggs with ham or bacon …. We need to find a pig.”
“Those are not good for your heart , Juliana.” I rolled my eyes.
“Careful, those eyes might just roll right out of your head.”
“Then you can catch them and put them back in. You’re a doctor, after all.” I turned and headed for the barn door. I wanted to check the house out.
The back stairs looked a little rickety, but I made it up the 4 steps with my crutches. The door to the porch was unlocked. I noticed a fridge, freezer, various boots, coveralls, jackets etc. And in one corner, a milk separator. Bonus! If there was power and the separator worked, it would make separating the cream easier. Though first I had to get Mama Cow to let me milk her.
Luke tried the door to the house. It opened. A lot of country folks didn’t lock their doors. Fortunately for us. We stepped inside into a kitchen. No smell of rotting bodies. Good. Luke tried a light switch. A light came on. There was power. Very good. I turned on a tap. There was running water. Even better. I started exploring and found a bathroom. The toilet flushed. Just a couple more things to check. The living room had a fireplace, which was on my list of things we needed in a place to spend the winter.
I continued walking around the main floor while Luke went upstairs to see what was - or wasn’t - up there. I found what looked to be a rec room and it had a Franklin stove, which was even better than a fireplace for throwing out heat. There was some wood in the house, but we’d have to either find or cut a lot more to get through the winter.
Luke came down the stairs. “There are 4 bedrooms and a bathroom up there. No bodies.” I breathed a sigh of relief. “What do you think?” he asked.
“It seems like this may be a place we can spend the winter in.”
“There’s one problem, Juliana - the stairs. I don’t like you going up and down them on crutches.”
“No worries about that. For one, look at the stairs. They have one of those lifts on them. But, it would be best to sleep down here and put a curtain or something up at the bottom of the stairs so the heat stays down here.”
Luke groaned. “Which means bringing beds down.”
“I bet you’re wishing you’d never rescued me from that car wreck!”
He laughed. “Not the brightest decision of my life! Seriously, though, I’m glad I did. You are a nice lady, and you know a lot about survival. And you needed a doctor.”
“Let’s go back to the fire station and figure out if we want to stay here or look for somewhere else.”
On our way back out the kitchen, I stopped and opened the fridge door. It was not a pretty sight or smell. “Luke, if we’re going to stay here, we need to get another fridge.”
“What about the one on the porch?”
“Let’s check it out.” No luck, it was the same. Rotting food with a god-awful smell. I had a feeling another trip to the city was in order. “Ok, let’s go ‘home’ and talk.”
Back at the station, Luke put a pot of coffee on. We sat down and talked about the pros and cons of moving across the road. The cons, of course, were replacing the fridges - or at least one of them - and getting them out of the house, getting beds downstairs, and collecting/cutting enough wood for the winter. We had checked the oil tank before leaving and it was almost full, but that would not get us through the winter without a supplemental heat source.
The pros were that there was power, running water and a septic system, a fireplace and a Franklin stove to supplement the oil furnace and it was closer to the cow and her calf and the chickens - we would not have to clear snow from the fire station to the barn every time it stormed.
“I think it’s a no-brainer, Luke”, I said.
“I agree. What should we do first?”
“Get new fridges and get those out of there. But I’m not sure I’m up to doing anything today. I’m wiped out.”
“Are you okay?”
“Just really tired. I sometimes get tired easily.”
“That’s the cardiomyopathy. Let’s have lunch and then you can have a nap. I want to check you out before you do.”
“I’m okay, Luke. Really.”
“Remember you said you would defer to me on medical issues? I’m holding you to that, especially now that I’m on shit-shovelling duty.” I couldn’t help but laugh. “How do you women manage to get your own way like this?”
“By reminding you that if you want fresh milk, butter, ice cream and eggs, we need to take care of the animals and you won’t let me do it right now.” Now he laughed.
“You have me there, Juliana!”
After lunch, I made my way to the bedroom, followed by the dogs. We had left them at the station while we checked the farm out. They were pretty happy to see us when we got back. Luke tagged along behind Sherlock and Molly. “Let me pee first”, I said as I headed for the bathroom.
When I was finished in the bathroom, Luke took my blood pressure and pulse and said they were okay. “Juliana, could you take your top off, please? It would make it much easier for me.” I did as asked, then he carefully listened to my heart and my lungs. When he was finished, he said “There’s a bit of an arrhythmia but it isn’t bad. Could you lay down please?”
He pushed the legs of my pants up and looked at my legs. Next, he pulled the tops of my socks down and pressed on my legs and ankles with his fingers. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“Checking for edema. Do you feel short of breath at all?”
“That is good. Let’s get you into bed for your nap.” I sat up and undid my pants. Luke reached out and grabbled the top of my jeans with both hands. “Lift your butt up”, he directed. I did and he pulled them down over my rump. I sat down again and he pulled them off my legs. “Do you have a nightgown or something?”
“A nightshirt over the chair”, I motioned to the corner. He got it and handed it to me. I pulled it over my head. Luke reached around my back and undid my bra. I glared at him.
“It’s okay, Juliana. I’m your doctor. I can see you without a bra.”
“I thought you said you aren’t my doctor.”
“It looks like I’ve become your physician”, he said as he pulled the straps over my shoulders. “You need a doctor and I don’t see any others around.” I pulled the nightshirt down over my body. He looked me in the eye with his hands on my shoulders. “Seriously, though, you can trust me. I will not make any unwanted advances toward you. I know you are still grieving your husband and besides, it’s not who I am. You can trust me, okay?” I nodded my head. “Good.” He pulled the covers down. I got into bed and he pulled them up over me. “Have a good sleep. I’ll be laying down in the next room if you need anything.”
I woke up a few hours later. Looking at my watch, I realized it was 4pm. We should go and put Mama and baby in the barn soon, I thought. Baby needed a name. We’d have to think of one. Mama has hers, I think - Mama Cow or Mama for short. I tried to sit up, intending to get dressed and go out to the kitchen. But I fell right back down on the bed, feeling too tired to get up just yet.
Next thing I knew, I opened my eyes and it was dark. I turned on the bedside lamp and checked the time. Holy shit, I thought, it’s 8pm! I sat up - successfully this time - and put my clothes on, then had a pee before heading out of the bedroom. Luke was in the kitchen.
“Hi Sleepy Head”, he greeted me. “Feel better?”
“I can’t believe I slept so long! We have to go put Mom and Baby in for the night!”
“It’s already done.”
“You did it all by yourself?” I asked, astonished.
“I sure did. I didn’t want to wake you up, you need all the rest you can get.”
“I just might make a farmer out of you, Luke!” He laughed.
The next day, after we - or should I say Luke - did the morning chores, we headed to the city to look for a fridge or a couple fridges. Luke was adamant we only needed one. With only one cow and just a few chickens, he might be right. We’d looked at the phone book and map and located an appliance store and a U-Haul, the latter for finding a vehicle to bring it/them back in. They would have a dolly that we would need to get the fridges in and out of the house. We had also located a bed store. Luke had decided I should have an adjustable bed if we could find one. “You should have your head raised, especially if you get any congestion in your lungs”, he’d said. We could have got one from the hospital, but I did not want a narrow bed, I insisted on full size.
We went to U-Haul first and found a truck big enough to get a couple fridges and a couple beds in. I found the keys in the office and started it. Full tank of gas, good. This will be a good place to siphon gas, I thought. Rental vehicles always come back with a full tank - or they are supposed to.
Luke and I almost got into our first fight at the appliance store. I was looking at fridges, comparing models, and he got impatient. “Just pick one, Juliana.”
“I want to see what each does.”
“They all keep food cool. That’s all we need.”
“But some make ice and some dispense water.”
“We don’t need that. We just need a basic fridge.”
“Typical man”, I muttered under my breath. I may have been a farmer, but I’m also a woman and the idea of an appliance that does everything really appealed to me. We couldn’t afford top of the line in my pre-apocalypse life, but now I could have my pick.
“I heard that.”
“Good.” I picked a fridge and told him how to put it on the dolly we’d brought in from the U-Haul place. Yes, it had an ice maker in it, but no water dispenser. That was my compromise.
Luke got it into the truck but refused to consider getting a second one. “If it turns out we do need it, then we can come back and get one at a later time. We still have to get a couple beds.” He had decided that since I was getting a new bed, he would get one, too.
A while later, we were heading back to the farm with our “purchases”. Luke got the beds in the front door, then I drove the truck around to the back. I was driving as he did not know how to drive a truck that size. I’d driven many a farm vehicle, including combines, so for me it was easy.
He got our new fridge up the stairs and into the house, then loaded one of the old ones onto the dolly. I had to help him get it down the steps, it was just too hard for him to do by himself. So I stood on the step below to help guide him down. He was not happy about it, but I did try to do it on one foot. At least I have the boot on, I thought. He got it down and loaded it onto the truck. We’d decided to put both of the old fridges in the truck and take it back to U-Haul the next day. We may be the last two people on the continent, I thought, but I will not have my yard looking like a junkyard.
Next was the porch fridge. We did it the same way with one difference. We were just starting down when I fell through the old wooden step.