Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bangor Dairy Farmer Ron Klein Survives Bull Attack

Leoben, the bull, stands in the center with part of his harem of 18 cows

It was a warm, sunny Saturday on Memorial Day weekend and Ron and Suzanne Klein had just spent the morning at a community breakfast hosted by the local fire department and the early afternoon with their cheese-maker partners at Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery. 

Taking time away from Windshadow Farm & Dairy, their newly-established goat and water buffalo dairy, has been difficult over the past couple years, so this day began in an unusually leisurely and special way.  It was not to last.

Upon returning to the farm around 3:30 in the afternoon, Ron let out his twelve heifer calves to their pasture, but they inadvertently took a wrong turn into the 15-acre east pasture where the 18 cows and Leoben, a 1,600 pound, four-year-old bull and herd Sire, were lounging, chewing their cud and enjoying the shade at the far south end.

Over the past year, the Kleins have separated the calves (weighing up to 500 pounds) from the mature water buffalo (1500 to 1,800 pounds) so they could protect the youngsters from being dominated by the cows, work with the calves and prevent premature mating by the herd sire, Leoben.

Ron cautiously headed out into the pasture to fetch the calves and guide them back, as he had done dozens of times before.  Water buffalo have been domesticated for over 5,000 years.  They are intelligent and if handled, quite docile.  All the cows had been handled, milked and groomed on a regular basis.  Leoben, the bull, had been handled and trained, too, but as with all bulls, he was always given due respect even though he had never shown any overly aggressive tendencies.
Water buffalo calves leaving dry lot to go to their pasture

As Ron approached the calves, they bolted away from him, which was strange and unusual behavior.  When he turned, he saw the adult buffalo cresting a small hill. Ron was between the calves and the adults.  Perhaps a few buffs thought it a game to chase the calves, and the others followed. 

Upon seeing Ron, several turned away, but the rest could not and in an instant he was knocked down but able to roll out of the way of some while one stepped on his left arm.

Ron rose to his knees dazed and his left arm throbbing.  He was about 500 feet from the back fence on the east side of the pasture.  There were several felled trees near the fence that would afford protection if he needed it.  Getting run over by the adult water buffalo was an accident, and he knew it would not be repeated. The cows were between him and the nearest fence, so he headed toward the back fence when Leoben suddenly slammed into him from behind with such incredible force, it sent him sprawling on the ground.  Ron rolled, got up and faced the bull, who was just a few feet from him.

Ron and two-year old Leoben at a more playful time in 2010
“He kept coming at me,” said Ron.  “I pushed against his head to try to keep my body away from him, but he just he kept coming.  I shuffled backwards to keep pushing myself away from him, but he kept knocking me down and trying to pin me into the ground.  He was in a frenzy.  When I got up, he lowered his head and came at me.  I arced over his head and he hooked my belt with his horn, lifted me up and whipped me to the ground.  Then, he ran carrying me on his horn and whipping me into his sides like I was a rag doll.  My heavy leather belt broke and I flew over his back and hit the ground hard on my back.  I rolled and managed to get to my feet and head toward the back fence.”

Ron was in incredible pain and the bull’s unrelenting fury was a terror beyond words. Ron had spent a lot of time with his animals.  He had watched them push against each other, even “spar.”  He particularly watched Leoben swing his head and often lower his head into the ground and dig with his horns.  Ron knew to move slowly, deliberately among the buffalo and to face Leoben to keep him in view in order to avoid him.  Ron also knew he had to stay on his feet.

As a result of decades of training in fundamental martial arts and self-defense, Ron instinctively knew he needed to focus on the bull’s sensitive nose and eyes to get him to back off.

“There was never much distance between us, he would back up a step, lower his head and come at me,” Ron said.  “I was able to side step, or push myself off and away.  So when Leoben knocked Ron on his back, Ron kicked the bull’s nose and mouth with the heel of his heavy work boots as hard and as rapidly as he could.  While on his back, the bull tried to crush his head into Ron’s left side and pelvis. Ron kept pushing himself away from the bull’s head.  After each attack, Ron managed to scoot and stumble closer to the fence and felled trees.  

The bull came at him again and Ron pushed him off, but the bull swept his head sideways and hooked Ron in the left side and with incredible force threw him into the air.

“That was the worst,” he said.  “The bull threw me, and I seemed airborne forever.  I hit the ground hard and was on my back with the wind knocked out of me and in horrible pain. I felt my shirt getting wet and sticky.  I was bleeding. I rolled and got up on one knee.” 

The bull swept his head again and hooked the collar of Ron’s shirt and started to run.

"He was dragging me!"

Ron and the water buffalo
“I remember choking and could feel him moving.  Then my shirt ripped,” said Ron. “But I got up again and pulled the remains of my ripped shirt off.  Blood was running down the inside of my left arm and along my chest.  Leoben bounced at me again, got close and lowered his head.  I threw my shirt over his head and horns to cover his eyes.  Then, I grabbed his right horn with my left hand and pounded his left eye as fast and hard as I could with my right fist.  He responded by jamming his snout up between my legs into my groin and lifting me up.  I put my fingers into his eye to rip it out all the while cursing him and calling for help.  He threw me off and backed away.”

Suddenly, the cows started running toward Ron and dominant boss cows pressed into the bull.  The “Bingo Girls” as Ron calls them (B-13 and B-04 together with M-131) were swinging their heads into the bull and squeezing him to shield Ron. 

Ron tried to calm down the agitated cows.

“I got control of myself,” he said.  “I shooshed the cows, talked to them, leaned on them and petted them as they pushed on the bull.  I got between M-131 and the bull and slowly backed toward the fallen tree limbs.”

Nevertheless, the bull broke free and hit Ron in the front at his waist and slammed him backward.

“When I fell back, my right hand touched a branch, and I hit Leoben with it on the nose with everything I had.  He finally stopped and backed off.”

Ron managed to step into the fallen tree limbs with the fence only about 20 feet away.  Then everything stopped and became very quiet, he said.  The whole scene was illuminated by a bright, soft, white light.  Glowing white posts or pillars appeared in symmetrical rows crisscrossing the pasture. 

“Everything was in slow motion except for me,” he said.  “At this point I was hyper-vigilant and wondered if I was going into shock.  It felt like I was in another world.  I seemed to float through the tree limbs.  Then I heard voices.”

“This way.  Right here,” they said. 

“It was my Mom and Dad.  They were waving to me.  They were young, and I could see them as plain as day.  But they had died.  I was stunned and could only stand and stare at them.”

“Come on,” they said, “right here.  Come on, Ronny, right here.”  They directed him to the fence.

Two cows came up to him snorting, Ron flicked them with a branch, and they turned and ran off.

Ron escaped the pasture over the electrified fence
Ron walked slowly to the fence and set a branch on top of the electric offset and into the field fence wire to wedge the hot wire down.  However, he could neither flex his left leg nor grab the top of the fence with his left hand.

“Come on,” his parents repeated.  “You need to go now.”

Ron put his right foot on the branch, pulled himself up with his right arm and made it over the fence.  He said it felt like he was floating.  After his feet touched the ground, he felt the breeze in his face and heard the rustle of leaves and birds singing.  The water buffalo were all grazing peacefully in the pasture. It was a quiet and beautiful day.

the long walk home was a third of a mile
Ron made a quick assessment of his situation.  He was at the furthest point of the farm property from his house—a third of a mile—but he could walk—or rather shuffle.  He could feel his fingers and toes.  There was no blood coming from his mouth, his nose was bleeding, but his breathing was OK.  His left forearm was swollen the size of a grapefruit and possibly broken.  His left shoulder was swollen and possibly broken. He knew he had been gored under his left armpit, but he did not know if an artery had been hit since there was a lot of blood. He balled up part of his tee-shirt and shoved it in the hole under his arm and clamped his arm down on it as hard as he could. His left pelvis was “on fire with pain.” The back of his legs and thighs were burning; his inner groin and waist area were throbbing.  Since he had a long walk ahead of him following the fence line, he kept talking out loud to stay alert and conscious.

“Home.  Breathe slow.  Walk slow,” he told himself.  “Don’t hurry.  Count the steps.  Feel the fence.  Stumble, fall, get up.  Keep going.  Keep going.  Go, go, go.  Slowly.  Never stop.  Never give up.  Keep going.  One step at a time.” 

For some bizarre reason he also remembered humming and singing “Just Walk Away RenĂ©e,” a song from a movie he and Suzanne had watched the day before.

As he came up to the hay barn, he saw Suzanne.

“I heard something strange while I was in the house,” said Suzanne.  “I came out with our dog, Max, to see what was going on.  We thought we heard Ron’s voice and Max started barking. I could not tell where Ron was and started toward the front pasture, but caught a glimpse of him along our north fence so I changed directions.”

“I came around the dairy barn and he was walking toward me," she said.  "I was shocked.  His chest and left arm were covered in bright red blood, his tee-shirt was soaked and dripping with blood.  His right hand and arm were covered in blood.”

“I need help,” Ron told her.  “Call Mike.  Call Derek.  Call 911.  911, Mike, Derek.”

Mike Sullins
Mike Sullins is a neighbor and farmer who had befriended the Kleins since they moved to Windshadow Farm, and he has helped them in many ways.  Derek Babcock is the Bangor Fire Chief, a highly trained and competent first responder and good friend

“We walked to my car, I got Ron in and drove across the street to the Sullins’ house,” said Suzanne. “I saw Mike and called to him that Ron had been hurt.” 

Mike immediately called 911.

“Guys, I can feel the blood under my left arm,” Ron told Mike.  “I’m bleeding.  Don’t know if I hit an artery.  Jam something in there.  Stop the bleeding.” 

Mike took off his sweatshirt, folded it and crammed it under Ron’s arm and pressed Ron’s arm down on it.  Ron writhed in agonizing pain and continued to bleed. 

Derek Babcock, arrived immediately, followed by Coloma EMS.  They evaluated Ron, checked him, cut off his clothes and got him on a body board and into a neck brace. 

“These guys know trauma, and they are well trained.” Ron assured himself.  “They are good, quick and competent.”

Suzanne wanted Ron rushed to Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo.

Derek Babcock with Ron, Suzanne and Mike Sullins' son, Mike
Babcock called AirCare to have Ron air lifted to Bronson some 25 miles away.  He set up a landing pick-up zone at the Bangor High School parking lot two miles from the farm.

In trauma cases time is of the essence.

When the ambulance reached the high school, the Emergency Room doctor 12 miles away in South Haven ordered Ron to be brought there, so EMS took him. 

Although South Haven was only ten minutes away, it was a long and “fricken painful” ride, said Ron.  While in the ambulance, Ron was given oxygen and medication to dull the pain. 

Throughout his rescue, Ron remained calm and awake, but his normally high blood pressure began to drop.

“I kept asking about my vitals, trying to stay alert,” Ron said.  “My blood pressure was dropping, which meant internal bleeding.  I knew time was important.”

The controlled calm of the EMS crew was a sharp contrast to the chaos at South Haven Hospital’s ER, according to Ron.

“When I was rolled into that emergency room, it was the only time I remember being really scared.  I knew South Haven was not equipped to deal with trauma” he said, “and I did not want to be there, I should not have been taken there.  I needed to go to the Trauma Center in Kalamazoo.”

“Then I heard someone say ‘the ‘copter is here,’” said Ron, “and I remember two people, the flight nurses, coming to me.

“My name is Sara.  This is Bob,” they said.  “Your pilot is Krystian.” 

“I do not have enough words to describe how comforting that was,” said Ron.  “They talked to me as they checked me out.  Then they said:  ‘Lets go.’"

“What a relief,” he told himself.  “Let the professional trauma specialists on the scene make the call.  Derek did, and he was right.  Their job is to stabilize me and get me to the Trauma Center pronto. These people are highly trained and skilled.  They know their business.”

some bruises left after Leoben's countless poundings
AirCare picked up Ron in South Haven and he found the crew “wonderful, excellent, competent and in control.”  He was taken to the Bronson Trauma Center where he received similar treatment from the staff as they stabilized and evaluated him. 

Trauma Center staff found that Ron had severe, heavy bruising all over his pelvic sides, legs and back, but not one broken bone!  It was a miracle. The bull’s horn had missed his lungs by a fraction of an inch and the vitals under his arm “by a hare’s breath.” 

“I was in lots of pain and sustained heavy, deep soft tissue and bone bruises,” said Ron.  “I had a huge hematoma on my left hip, and the crest of my pelvis was heavily bruised.  It is amazing that there was no bruising on my chest or torso, except for the fist-sized gore hole under my arm.  I was black and blue from my waist to my ankles.  I never lost consciousness since I fought to stay alert and do everything the EMS, AirCare, and trauma experts needed." 

Meanwhile, Mike and Suzanne went back to the farm to secure it before they left for Kalalmazoo.  Suzanne was at the hospital before the helicopter and Mike arrived a short time later. 

stitched up gore wound under Ron's left armpit
While he was at the Trauma Center, Ron, who is a retired Senior Research Scientist from Pharmacia (now part by Pfizer) questioned the antibiotic prescribed to deal with potential infection from the goring.  Ron talked with the pharmacist who consulted the doctor and both agreed that a broader spectrum antibiotic was called for.

Doctors performed surgery on the wound Saturday night, let it vacuum drain and closed it on Monday, May 28.  Ron spent two nights in critical care and was released Monday night.
“It was a miracle to be coming home!” said Ron. “Any single trample, head butt, toss or goring during the attack could have been fatal, and it seemed to go on forever. There were six horn holes in the shirt I was wearing.  It was a miracle.  I was lucky beyond imagination.”

Ron's shirt with six horn holes.  His right hand is the point of Leoben's goring
On the day after the bull attack, Suzanne went out to the pasture to look for Ron’s things and found his hat, gloves, cell phone, belt knife and pieces of clothing scattered over a three-acre area.  His shredded shirt had six horns holes in it.  The scattered evidence indicated that he did not take a straight route to the trees and over the fence 500 feet from where he was first knocked down.

“If Suzanne had not been home I would have walked as long as it took,” said Ron. 

That would have been at least another 850 feet to the heavily traveled County Road.

A couple weeks before the bull attack, the Kleins’ had sold the water buffalo herd to a new dairy farm near Charleston, South Carolina.  After a series of delays, they were awaiting arrangements for the transport of the buffs there.  On Monday, June 4 the water buffalo made their 17-hour journey to their new home.

 Ron is now recovering.  Suzanne, an attorney, was able to bring work home, and take over chores, including milking their 53 dairy goats twice daily and caring for Ron.  Neighbors have dropped by with food and to help with chores.

All we want to do is live happily,” said Ron.  “We just formed a new company, Meadowland Divas, LLC, a partnership between Evergreen Lane Farm and Creamery and Windshadow Farm & Dairy.  We want to get our grazing systems on line, milk our goats and make fine cheese.  I have always told people that the transition of sun, to grass, to milk, to cheese is a wondrous miracle.  But, I’m adding surviving the bull attack to the miracle list.” 

“I cannot convey how thankful I am to be with Suzanne, and how thankful I am for our friends, especially Mike Sullins and Derek Babcock, and all of the EMS people. And I am thankful to be here talking to you.  Isn’t it a beautiful day?”


  1. it IS a beautiful day! thank-you for sharing this story so vividly, olga. i live just down the street a few blocks from derek babcock...and it certainly is comforting to know we have such experienced and caring professionals here in bangor, as well as hardy souls such as ron and suzanne klein!

  2. Olga, you brought a most interesting account of a miracle to life for me while I read the story of the bull attack. How very very fascinating that he had the communication with his deceased parents! Thank you for crafting this compelling story of crisis, courage, intelligent decisions while under attack, and surely, an example of the Grace of God. Wow!
    Karen Chadwick, Kalamazoo

  3. What a riveting but gruesome account. Ron is one tough cookie who kept his wits during a horrible situation, which is what I would expect from him. Thank goodness the injuries, as bad as they were, were not worse.

  4. Olga, this is a gripping account of what happened. Nice piece. It gave me chills

  5. What a horrible experience. I'm happy that you are healing. My sister was attacked by a bull in central Florida. So I know a little about your injuries.She is also healing, but has many injuries that she will have for life.
    God Bless you, I'm so happy that this story has a happy endking.

  6. I'm a reader on EatLocalSWMich, and don't usually comment, but I read Ron's contributions to the list so often I feel I know him. I am so happy to know that he survived this horrific attack - my wishes for a continued recovery.

  7. While I am grateful that Ron has survived and is in full recovery, let's not forget the interference by the ER Doctor in South Haven. On site trauma had been performed and a determination made "On Site" by Chief Babcock. This is not the first time for this type of interference. My stepmother was injured during a vehicle crash on M43 between Bangor and South Haven several years ago. The "On Site" responder determined the need for transport to Bronson in KZoo, but was also ordered to SH. Upon arrival, they (SH) determined that her injuries were beyond their level and was then ground transported to Bronson. She had received a fracture of the C2 and spent most of the next 6 months in recovery. When will they (SH) learn to get over themselves and their lack of abilities.

  8. The phrase is hair's breadth, meaning the width of a hair, not "hare's breath" like a bunny breathing. I'm really glad R
    on recovered so well.

  9. I appreciate this so much! thank you for sharing this story. Me and my medical malpractice Arizona are so happy that he survived this kind of attack. Get well soon.

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