The Story (Backdrop)

We had an unusual request at Station 20 recently in which an individual had a mother cow wander into a neighbor’s property and fall into an old septic tank. A mama cow was let into a property that was not her owners’ by another individual. That individual had an old septic tank that was made of concrete but had no permanent top fixture. The only thing covering the top of the septic was a metal sheet that is normally used for roofs. It is believed that the cow was eating the grass in that area and stepped on the metal sheeting covering the hole. The sheeting was not able to support the weight of cow the sheeting collapsed under the animal trapping it there. This particular cow was nursing and is a mother to a new heifer. With the property being as big as it was, it still took us almost 40 minutes to find the cow (and we had a general idea of where she was). When it was discovered the cow was missing the owners eventually found the cow or general area of her and notified us. The area she (the cow) was in was accessible and needed the property owner’s permission for access. The problem? The owner was on vacation and didn’t even know a cow was stuck on the property. Here entails how everyone else got involved.

Photo Courtesy of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.


Like the old joke how many people does it take to change a light bulb? We soon learned getting a cow out of a septic is no small feat. The main issues actually lay with our legal system. What a fire department can and cannot do for an animal versus a human. Who owns the cow and in whose property is the cow currently trapped? Is the animal a pet or livestock (falls under different jurisdictions)? If the cow had gotten stuck on the actual owners’ property it would be an easier deal and Station 20 would have probably broke out the bricks and dug a ramp for the mama cow to get out.

In short, we had to call law enforcement on the agriculture side who deals with this and they called others. This included Putnam County Animal Control, Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, vets (for tranquilizer), and a specialized team out of Gainesville, Fl ( UF College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Technical Rescue Team) who apparently deal with this situation quite often. There are many details I must legally leave out…but it sure was a spectacle to see some 20+ vehicles over 1 cow.

Some of the people involved to help mama cow out.

Story Continued

When all was said and done,half the neighbors were out, many hours had gone by and an elaborate mountain climbing apparatus was constructed to haul a massive cow who had become dehydrated and a bit skittish. With animal control lending us a container, Station 20 volunteers got water to the cow as she waited. Other members of Station 20 brought us and the other teams water as we waited as well for the extraction of the cow.

Mama cow getting some much needed water.

The end decision was to build a sort of two wall system that UF College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Technical Rescue Team brought and slid the cow up one wall on to her side along another wall. This required many people just for lifting the pully system attached to the cow and getting her up the first wall. Once she was on the top of the ground, we had a second team pull her away from the hole. The third team then blocked the hole so the cow didn’t panic and run back into it. Cows for the most part are pretty docile creatures, but this cow had horns and our main concern was her panicking and someone getting injured.

Photo Courtesy of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.
Getting mama cow ready for extraction.
Photo Courtesy of UF College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Technical Rescue Team.

Once the cow was pulled to safety, a quick release was detached from the pulley system as the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office grabbed the animal by the horns so the rest of the team could get the gear pulled off the cow. Overall, the cow was sweet and just happy to get back to her baby. A little malnourished from the heat and hunger, but healthy.

Mama cow is out and was instantly reunited with her calf.
Photo Courtesy of UF College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Technical Rescue Team.

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