Tales of a Coun­try Vet

A first-time mother is in big trou­ble.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - TR­ISHA FISK

Big is not al­ways beau­ti­ful

Jan and Clive run a Here­ford stud part-way be­tween town and the deep blue sea. It's a big spread and has been in the fam­ily for a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions, the live­stock and breed­ing his­tory passed down along with the land­scape. It's hard to re­place that sort of ge­netic his­tory and se­lec­tion.

The stud has al­ways boasted easy-care cows with good growth rates in the calves. Put one of Clive's bulls over a Friesian dairy herd and you get a nice line of black­bod­ied, white-faced calves that rear­ers snap up. The lit­tle heifer calves make good brood cows when run with an­other beef breed put over them as a ter­mi­nal sire.

Rep­u­ta­tion is ev­ery­thing for a stud like this.

It's cer­tainly an im­pres­sive sight, rolling pad­docks dot­ted with herds of hand­some red and white stock. Big mobs of an­i­mals look­ing the same from a dis­tance, but up close, each to­tally unique in its mark­ings with white patches around the ears, eyes, legs and dewlap.

The stud an­i­mals are the cream, their ge­net­ics known and un­der­stood and breed­ing in­dex val­ues cal­cu­lated for dif­fer­ent traits and qual­i­ties. Clive also runs a com­mer­cial mob to take the spillover from the stud. Any­thing that doesn't have the qual­i­ties he is se­lect­ing for is ei­ther fin­ished and sent to slaugh­ter or de­moted to the com­mer­cial mob and kept for beef pro­duc­tion.

Easy-care is the num­ber one qual­ity he se­lects on so it must have been a dis­may­ing day when he found a first-time calver in trou­ble: two front feet of a calf show­ing, noth­ing else, and it looked like a big one. Clive and Jan are pretty self-suf­fi­cient and ca­pa­ble so there was no need to call the Vet in. They just shifted the heifer up to the yards, reached in, found the head, straight­ened it up and pulled it out. Slowly. Care­fully.

But a few min­utes later dis­as­ter struck. The heifer pro­lapsed and went down while still up the race. Jan ran to call the Vet.

“We got the calf out. It was a hell of a squeeze and the calf was dead. But the cow was still stand­ing. She is a great wee cow, re­ally good to han­dle. We were all set to let her out, then she strained again and pushed out all her in­sides. Cripes, what a mess, and soon af­ter that she went down.” “I'm on my way.”

Pro­lapses al­ways get the Vet's at­ten­tion. A cow can strug­gle with a calv­ing for a few hours, and with a bear­ing (where she pushes the cervix out) for a few days. But a pro­lapse, where the whole uterus is pushed out through the cervix is se­ri­ous trou­ble. She runs a ma­jor risk of haem­or­rhag­ing and can die quite quickly.

“She has gone down in the race. Should we put a head rope on her and drag her out?”

“No! Don't move her. The less she moves about the less chance of rip­ping the uterus. Just leave her un­til I get there.”

Two front feet show­ing, noth­ing else, and it was big.

It was only a 10 minute drive and for­tu­nately the cow had stayed down and quiet over those min­utes. Her eyes were glazed and she had given up strain­ing. The uterus ap­peared in­tact.

The Vet gave the cow a cou­ple of in­jec­tions, for pain and in­flam­ma­tion and to stop her strain­ing, and one more to begin closing down the cervix. Then he got down on his knees be­hind her, and prod­ded and pushed the swollen pulpy mass back to­wards her vagina. It's rather like try­ing to get a bean bag through a back-to-front fun­nel. The Vet kept get­ting it to half­way and then the heifer would shift or push and the whole lot would flop out again.

“I guess it feels un­com­fort­able, all that go­ing back in­side, it's prob­a­bly cold and feels for­eign, but we are so close, and once it's in it will warm up and the swelling will go down with proper blood sup­ply to it. We just have to get it in.”

He tried again. Again got it to half­way and again the heifer shuf­fled around, fight­ing the dis­com­fort. But this time she got her hind legs un­der her and stood with her back end in the air, try­ing to stand.

“Keep her there. Just like that.” The Vet yelled. “Don't let her head up.”

He was work­ing fever­ishly now the fun­nel was fac­ing down­hill, and grav­ity was help­ing to hold the mass in­side her. A few more squeezes and pushes and the last part of the sack dis­ap­peared.

The Vet kept his arm there, hold­ing it all in place for a few min­utes. When he was sure she was not go­ing to strain again, he put a large su­ture across the out­side of the vagina.

“This stops ev­ery­thing fall­ing out again un­til the cervix has closed down prop­erly.”

Jan opened the head bail gate and let the heifer into the next pen. She sniffed at the large dead calf ly­ing nearby, it's head swollen and tongue pro­trud­ing.

“That's a whopper. No won­der she had trou­ble,” the Vet said.

“Yeah, I guess I will have to cull her, it's a shame,” said Clive. “She has been so good to han­dle. Pretty lit­tle cow too, just what we want in the herd, but not if she is go­ing to throw huge calves. And not if her in­sides are go­ing to fall out.”

“Don't be too quick to down­grade her,” said the Vet. “The pro­lapse wasn't her fault, just the re­sult of the big calf, and she might not pro­lapse again, es­pe­cially if you can get the calf size right. What was the bull?”

“Well ac­tu­ally,” Jan spoke now. “I just checked her records. I re­mem­ber we got 20 straws of Amer­i­can se­men. She got one of those.”

“Ah,” said the Vet. “That ex­plains it. A lot of Amer­i­can breed­ers put size above all else, and they breed big calves with big heads - they like the look of them. And on the studs, they are used to hav­ing a vet around full-time to calve them all.”

“Well, that sure isn't what we want here, the Yanks can keep the big-as-texas look,” said Clive. “I reckon good things come in small packages, so long as they go on to grow once they hit the ground. We'll mother a calf onto her this year, then try her with one of our own bulls next year.

“Who­ever said big was beau­ti­ful weren't in the calv­ing busi­ness.” n

It’s rather like try­ing to get a bean bag through a back-to-front


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