Too Many Legs

D. E. Larsen, DVM

   I pulled through the open gate to the pasture. It was early evening, the weather was great, one of those early spring days that we see in the Willamette Valley. Bright sunshine, no wind, and pleasant moderate temperatures, probably in the high sixties. This was the type of day that I see myself skipping school to go fishing.

  I could remember Mel’s words on the phone, I was just hoping he was correct.

   “Doc, this is Mel, out on Pleasant Valley,” Mel said into the phone. “I have a heifer down out in the pasture. She has been down and straining for a couple of hours. I don’t think she can get up. I left the gate open for you. I have to go to work. I would appreciate it if you could take care of her. Just leave a note in the mailbox when you are done, I will call you in the morning.”

   These heifers often became wild again when a strange pickup showed up with a stranger driving. Just to be safe, I got out and closed the gate. I could still hear my Grandfather.

   “It is a lot easier to close the gate than it is to wish had closed it,” he often said.

   I pulled up to the heifer, she made no effort to move. I could see front feet and the calf’s nose sticking out of her vulva. It looked like a normal position, it must be a large calf.

   I got out of the truck and poured a bucket of warm water. I put a rope around her neck. There was nothing to tie it to except my truck. I had learned that lesson a few years earlier. When a cow is tied to the truck, she goes in a circle on the end of the rope. This usually means she collides with the side of the truck somewhere. That typically leaves a big dent.

   Today I tie the rope to her front leg, bringing the foot up close to her neck. I think that should keep her from getting up long enough for me to get control of her. After I have her restrained, I tie her tail out of the way with some twine. And then prep her rear end.

   This is a Black Baldy heifer. She is black, with a white face. Usually, these cows are crosses between an Angus and a Hereford. They are generally good cows. The crossbreeding provides some hybrid vigor. 

  This heifer is young, less than 2 years old. She looks like she should be large enough to deliver this calf.

   I put on an OB sleeve and applied a lot of J-Lube. I ran my hand into the vagina alongside the calf. First on the right side and then on the left side. Everything felt fine to me. There appeared to be plenty of room in the pelvis, and the calf was in normal position. The calf was still alive.

   I thought we just needed a little traction on the calf, and it should just pop out of there. I put my Frank’s Calf Puller together and seated the breach across her hind legs below the vulva. I hooked the feet to the puller with a nylon OB strap. Then I started jacking the calf out. 

   There was minimal progress, and then it came to a solid stop. I applied a little more pressure, nothing. These calf pullers were sort of two-edged swords. They did the job easier, but they also allowed someone to put too much force on the calf. This was dangerous to the survival of the calf. It was also hazardous to the tissues and the nerves of the momma cow. The idea was to put no more pressure that two good men could apply. That was sort of a learned skill.

   I stopped and unhooked the calf and set the puller to the side. Then I gave a quick wash to the vulva again. I explored the birth canal again, bare-armed this time just so I don’t lose any sensitivity due to the plastic sleeve on my fingers. I could not feel anything that would be a problem with this delivery. 

   I hooked up the calf puller again and put tension on the calf. Then, I pulled the end of the puller down, so it was putting a downward pull on the calf. This would also make the breach put upward pressure on the calf. This did a couple of things. It gave the calf a direction of travel as if the cow was standing. This also elevated the calf in the birth canal. The pelvis was a little wider in the upper portion of the birth canal.

    I was thinking that I was putting too much pressure on this calf. But I gave a little more pull down on the end of the puller. It was close to vertical relative to a standing cow. I was about to stop when I detected a slight slippage of the calf. I gave one more little pull on the end of the puller.

   The calf suddenly came out, almost as if it was shot from a cannon. Landing on the ground, the calf shook his head. At least he was still alive. The heifer groaned a little, but I sure she was relieved that the calf was out of there.

   I went over to look at the calf. He was holding his head up already. And then I saw the problem. This calf had an extra set of legs coming out of his back just behind the shoulder blades. These came up out of the back and folded back along the back. They just added enough extra depth to the chest of the calf to make it a tight fit for the birth canal.

   Doing a quick exam of the calf, his hind legs were paralyzed. A lot of effort for the momma cow, all to no avail. Now, what to do. There is nobody home, Mel is at work. I don’t know if I have a phone number to reach him. In any case, it will involve a trip back to the office to make the call. 

   It would be interesting to know just what is going on structurally with these extra legs. I might see if Mel has any interest tomorrow. I am sure Mel would concur that this calf has no future. Leaving him until tomorrow will just add more stress for both the calf and the momma cow. I take a deep breath and make the decision to go ahead and put the calf to sleep now.

   I draw up 10 ccs of Sleep Away and give it IV to the calf. He is gone before the injection is complete. I return to the heifer and check her birth canal for any injury, it seems fine. I give the membranes a little tug, and they come out with little effort. I instill 5 grams of Tetracycline powder into her uterus because of the extended labor.

 Now to see if she can get up. I untie the rope from her foot and take it off her head. I stand back and give her a swat on the rear. She jumps up with no problem. She only glances at the calf before she heads off to the far end of the field.

  I pull off my coveralls and pour a fresh bucket of water to use to wash up with. Sandy wanted me to stop at the store for a couple of items. I was going to have to hurry if I was going to make dinner.

  I left a note for Mel, saying that I will talk to him when he calls in the morning and letting him know the calf is dead in the field. In the note, I tell him real briefly that the calf had 6 legs, that was why the heifer needed some help. I also tell him that the calf was paralyzed and that I put it to sleep.

  I stop at Thriftway for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk.I much prefer Thriftway, for their service, but also their community support. It is great to have a locally owned, large grocery store in town.

  I find it a little odd that people are avoiding me in the store. Maybe it is because I am almost running to get things and get checked out as soon as possible. But I make it home just as Sandy is getting the kids sat down for dinner.

  Sandy gasps as I am putting the milk into the refrigerator.

  “Did you go to the store like that?” she asked.

  “Like what?” I say.

  “You go look in the mirror in the bathroom, and you wash before you come to the table!” Sandy says in a firm voice.

  I look myself over in the mirror, and I don’t see anything that I would consider unusual. I know there have been times when I have missed blood in my hair and the like, but today I don’t see anything.

Sandy comes up behind and touches the back of my elbow. I raise my arm and look at the back of my elbow. There is a large glob of thick mucus and blood covering the back of my arm and elbow. No wonder I was avoided in the store.

Photo by Klaus Hollederer from Pexels.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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