Scene: near an oak tree, in a pasture, by the highway, in Iowa

Propped up by the bucket of a skid loader, the cow was in obvious distress. Her belly was bloated; a blue tongue stuck out of her mouth as she panted and belched; snot and a trickle blood ran from her nostrils. The three men looked at the downed cow much the way the same group might bend over the hood of an ailing pickup truck.

One of the men, a farmer from down the road, saw her lying on her side in the sun as he’d driven by, noted she didn’t look good, and stopped. The second, the first’s second cousin and contractor who owned the cow, had arrived after a quick phone call. The third, a butcher-turned-laborer, arrived a couple minutes later. Each had his own expertise and suggestions.

The 14-year-old cow had fallen in a slight depression in the pasture. It was possibly from the bull trying to mount her, possibly she just collapsed. But with her head slightly down hill and with the sun beating down on her black hide on a 90-degree day, she started to puff up.

Quickly it was clear that the men were too late. Even after they had helped her onto her side with the skid loader, she refused water and wouldn’t stand. The cow could do nothing to beat the flies off her eyes or back. Then she started to low.

For several seconds she let out intermittent, throaty bellows, and then slumped over, her left eye glassy and unblinking.

“She’s gone,” said the butcher.

“She didn’t have a chance, really,” said the farmer.

“Fuck,” said the contractor.