Gee I love spring, the cheeky wattle starting to bloom while we are still wearing 4 layers, scarfs and beanies, and the lambs pinging around the paddock chasing each other with their long tails. It is also the time when we start to see the arrivals of lots of foals and calves and everything has a new beginning. And not to forget a very happy birthday to our Standardbreds as well!
I was called out today by a farmer who noticed that one of his cows was having trouble calving. He ran her up into the race, and like all good farmers stuck his hand in to see what was going on. Bad news for the cow and calf, all that could be felt was a tail and some back legs. After getting a neighbour round for some help, it was decided that the calf must be dead as there was no movement or response to pinching, and they couldn’t get the legs up from under the calf to pull it out.
I got a phone call “Just wondering if you can do caesarians? We have a cow out here with a calf that is bum first and dead, and it just won’t budge. Can you come and have a look?” Thanks to my new grad years working in a mixed practice in Dubbo, cow caesarians were pretty run of the mill in big fat beef heifers and oversized calves in the dairy herd. By the time I left there 3 years later my Personal Best (PB) was 60 minutes from first cut to last suture, usually with a live calf on the ground.
When I arrived we ran the cow back up the race and into the head bale. Having a feel inside the cow, I also felt that there was little chance the calf was alive. After trying a few things to grab those elusive back legs, I was eventually able to push the calf forward far enough to be able to grab a back leg in one hand, and the hock in the other (can you imagine what this looked like with 2 hands deep inside this girl?) and successfully exteriorised a back leg. Another quickly followed, and with some hefty biceps-building heaving we had a calf out on the ground. Wait a minute, the calf looked like it swallowed!! Quick as a flash we had her up over the rails hanging head down so the fluid could be drained out of the lungs. After some rough stimulation and an 18G needle up the nasal septum (to stimulate the respiratory centre), the miracle calf (and she was a heifer!) started breathing again!
I left the owners to keep stimulating the calf and I went back to check on the heifer. Surprise!! There were another set of legs just waiting for me. This one was able to be pulled out easily but there looked to be no signs of life. This one got the same treatment and even though it was slower to respond, started breathing after a while.
So we had gone from a dead calf and a cow that needed surgery to two live calves and a healthy cow – and both the calves were heifers! If they had been a bull calf and a heifer the heifer is usually sterile due to the testosterone produced by the bull calf in utero (the sterile heifer calg is termed a ‘freemartin’). The cow after some hesitation started licking and nudging the calves and we left them in peace to mother up.
Driving away (and badly needing a shower and a change of clothes), I started thinking about the likely outcome of those three lives without intervention. As the song goes ‘everyone’s born and everyone dies’, I was glad that only one of those happens today. And by the way, the first born calf is called ‘Olivia’!
Until next time