Tales of a Country Vet
A first-time mother is in big trouble.
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