Firefighters act quickly to rescue calf stuck on muddy river bank

We had a hard frost that night. We were under no illusion we needed to get him out or the frost would have got him.

Paul Goodman, Tamworth Orange Watch Manager

Fire crews had to act fast to rescue a calf that had become stranded on a muddy river bank on the weekend – and then faced an anxious wait to see if it would recover from its ordeal.

Passers by had spotted the young animal on the banks of the River Swarbourn on Saturday evening and at the request of the RSPCA three appliances descended to save the calf.

Crews from Barton under Needwood, Tamworth and Cannock attended, including Animal Rescue and Water Rescue teams from Cannock and Tamworth respectively, and the swift actions of officers had the animal back in a warm barn within roughly 90 minutes of the call coming in at about 6.55pm on Saturday (9 January).

“It was a case of just giving him the best chance,” said Orange Watch Manager Paul Goodman, who attended from Tamworth. “The extrication had to happen ‘now’. Plus, we had to keep our crews safe.”

The calf is believed to have crossed the shallow river – where water was running at about four inches deep at the time – and gotten stuck in mud on the bank near to Meadow Lane in Woodhouses, near Yoxall.

Fire crews arrived at about 7.25pm and located the calf having had to cross a field to gain access to the bank.

“It was absolutely pitch black and we had to make our way down to the river, but we found the calf in five minutes,” added Paul. “It was stuck in the mud, level up to its back. How long it had been there we didn’t know.”

They were met by a worker from the farm the calf was believed to belong to after one of the retained firefighters at the scene was also a farmer who knew the owners.

Using ladders and rescue lines the crews got the calf onto more solid ground.

“We’d taken lighting and a general-purpose line so attached that to keep him steady and start to extricate. We then used short extension ladders as a platform to stand on. Before the specialist teams had arrived we had already extricated him.

“One of us there was a farmer so knew how to deal with him and how not to get kicked. We managed to get his front legs out of the mud. A cow’s neck is so strong you can pull them out that way without hurting them so managed to get the line around his haunches and pull him out from both ends.”

He was then placed on a big, plastic salvage sheet to transfer him across the field to the farm worker’s pick-up truck.

Crew members then travelled to the farm with the worker to transfer the calf out of the truck at the other end. It was safely back in the barn by 8.25pm.

“We felt his chances of survival looked slim, he was absolutely shattered,” added Paul. “We took him into the barn and covered him up, he clearly had hypothermia but was trying to suckle so a milk mixture was made up for sustenance.

“We had a hard frost that night. Calves need regular feeding like babies so we were under no illusion we needed to get him out that night or the frost would have got him.”

But there was a further twist to the tale as the calf recovered.

“It wasn’t their calf,” Paul explained. “It’s unknown where it came from, it wasn’t tagged or registered. The farmer will have to track down whose it is now.”

And Paul was also keen to ensure the public don’t put themselves at risk in similar situations and always call in the experts to save animals in future.

He concluded: “There was a piece of rope by the gates, we think somebody might have tried to help the calf.

“If you feel there is a need to rescue an animal call us in. The earlier we get there the more chance of the rescue being a success and the less chance of anybody getting into difficulty themselves.”