A Hasty Exam

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“Dick, give me a quick rundown about what happened here,” I said as I was unloading a few things from my truck.

Dick had called earlier, a little frantic. He had just pulled a calf from a cow and had a lot of problems with the pull. Now, he said, the cow had a prolapsed uterus.

“I have pulled a lot of calves, Doc,” Dick said. “Now don’t get me wrong, I know you are supposed to be pretty good at the OB stuff, but I have done my share. This calf had both hind legs back, just his butt at the birth canal. You know, I called Dr. Jones from back in Montana, and he said to just push the butt forward and reach down and grab the legs. So that is what I did, and it wasn’t as easy as he made it out to be. But I got the calf out, and it was dead. Then I looked at the cow, and her uterus is hanging out, just like you can see now.”

“A lot of backward calves are dead when you get them out,” I said. “Especially if they are breech like you describe this one. The calf just doesn’t engage the cervix to cause the cow to start contracting. So we often just don’t notice the cow is in labor until after the calf is dead.”

“Well, now I am worried about the cow’s prolapse,” Dick said.

“What did Dr. Jones have to say about that?” I asked.

“He said I better give you a call,” Dick said.

I started washing the cow up, and I tied her tail out of the way with a twin tied around her neck. 

“This doesn’t look good,” I said. “This is just her cervix hanging out of her vagina. I am not sure I have ever seen this before.”

I pulled on an OB sleeve and pushed the cervix back into the vagina. My hand just advanced through the cervix into an open space. There was no uterus attached to the cervix. I reached deeper. I could feel gut, rumen on the left, and even her right kidney. I reached down, there in the bottom of her abdomen was the uterus. I could grab it, but I could not pull it to the pelvis on the first try. Dick had ruptured the uterus in pushing the calf forward. It is sort of amazing that he could get the calf out of there.

“Dick, this cow is in bad shape,” I said. “You tore the uterus completely off the cervix. It is lying in the bottom of her abdomen. She has got to be losing a lot of blood.”

“What are we going to do now, Doc?” Dick asked.

I walked around to her head. Lifting her muzzle up, I looked at her oral membranes, they were ghost white. I kicked myself, I should have looked at her first, before just concentrating on the obvious cervical prolapse.

“Does this chute have a side release, Dick?” I asked.

“Oh no, Doc, this chute is probably older than the two of us combined.”

“Well, the first thing we are going to do is get this cow out of the chute before she drops dead,” I said.

“This is a pretty big pasture, we might have a hard time catching her,” Dick said.

“You are going to have on heck of a time getting her out of this old chute when she is dead,” I said as I popped open the headgate.

The cow staggered out of the chute. She walked a half a dozen steps, stopped and stood for a moment, and then fell over, dead when she hit the ground.

“What the hell happened?” Dick asked.

“Dick, when you were pushing that calf’s butt forward, you pushed a little too hard,” I said. “You tore her uterus right off the cervix. That pregnant uterus has some massive blood vessels, so she has been bleeding inside since that happened. Couple that with some shock, and you have a dead cow. There was probably no saving her, once the rupture occurred.”

“What would you have done differently, Doc?” Dick asked.

“Tissue feel is something that is learned,” I said. “I probably would not have pushed his butt in the first place. Not that that was wrong, some vets do that, I am usually able to get the hind legs up without pushing the butt that much.”

“Well, maybe Dr. Jones didn’t explain things good enough,” Dick said.

“You get what you pay for Dick,” I said. “Had you called me first, the calf probably would have still been dead.  But the cow would be alive. You need to decide who is going to do your veterinary work, me, or someone else around here, or Dr. Jones in Montana.”

Photo Credit: Photo by John Lambeth 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.

5 thoughts on “A Hasty Exam

  1. Today’s was excellent, not that the rest of them aren’t great because I enjoy every single one of them also. This one equates to life in general. Be prudent in where you get your information!


  2. horrendous post about a breech birthed calf/cow.

    On Mon, Jun 15, 2020 at 6:42 AM Memoirs of a Country Vet wrote:

    > d.e.larsen.dvm posted: ” D. E. Larsen, DVM “Dick, give me a quick rundown > about what happened here,” I said as I was unloading a few things from my > truck. Dick had called earlier, a little frantic. He had just pulled a calf > from a cow and had a lot of problems with the pul” >


    1. Yes, many breeches are horrendous in unskilled hands. That is part of the point to the story. Other points are doing a full exam rather just looking at the problem. And the final point is a learning process for a young veterinarian, when you couple this story with Wednesday’s and Friday’s.


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