D. E. Larsen, DVM
“Doc, this is Dave, I just brought in an old cow from the back pasture,” Dave said into the phone. “I think she has a dead calf in her. I have been busy, and It has been several days since I checked those cows. I guess I didn’t even suspect this old gal was pregnant. But she is sloughing a lot of fluid and smells pretty bad.”
“I can up there this afternoon if that works for you,” I said. “Do you have the cow in the barn?”
Dave had the old cow in the crowding ally when I pulled up to the barn. I enjoyed going to Dave’s place. He had a commanding view of Sweet Home, plus his facilities for working his cows were some of the best around.
This was a big old Angus cow. I could smell her when I stepped out of the truck.
“The way she smells, that calf must have been dead for several days,” I said.
“It’s been several days since I checked that pasture,” Dave said as he loaded her into the squeeze chute.
This was one big old cow. Reaching the depths of this old girl’s uterus will be impossible for me. With the volume of fluid she is discharging, and the odor, this was going to be a real mess. After scrubbing her well, I pulled on a plastic OB sleeve on each arm.
I ran my left arm into the vagina. I ran into a shoulder of the calf lodged into the birth canal. Feeling around, the head is turned back to the right side of the calf. Both front legs are retained. I could feel the hair slipping off the calf while I maneuvered my hand around him while exploring his position.
When I pulled my arm out, the sleeve was covered with black hair.
“Dave, this calf has been dead 5 to 7 days to be losing hair like this,” I said. “This is going to be a mess. I think the best thing for the cow is to do a fetotomy. I always try to do a fetotomy on a dead calf first. I think we see better fertility in the cow following a fetotomy versus a C-section.
“That sounds good to me,” Dave said. “What do you need from me?”
“Aw, actually, you are going to have to do a lot of the real work,” I said. “You are going to have to do all the sawing. I will have to position the wire saw and hold the fetatome in position while you do the work.”
With a fetatome, I could make right angle cuts on the fetus. My first cut would be to remove the head and neck. That should allow me room to bring the front legs into the birth canal. Then t will depend on how much air has accumulated in the abdomen of the calf.
Passing a wire around the neck of the calf proves nearly impossible. I finally have to strip down to my waist and go in with a bare arm to drop an OB chain over the top of the neck.
“Dave, I need something to stand on,” I said. “This big old cow is a long reach for me.”
Dave brings a big block of wood, an oak round, for me to stand on. Standing higher, I reach as deep as I can, my shoulder is in the vulva now. Finally, I grab the chain on the underside of the neck.
Tying the OB wire saw to the chain, I can pull the wire around the calf’s neck. Then I thread the wire through the two barrels of the fetatome. This fetatome sort of looks like a cross between a double-barrel shotgun and a trombone.
With everything in position, I give Dave a brief lesson on how to run the saw handles. He is a strong young man, this won’t take long.
“The only thing I want you to remember is my hand is holding the end of the fetatome in position,” I said. “If you hear me holler, you stop. That saw will take a finger off in a single pull.”
Severing the neck takes less than a minute. I quickly set the fetatome aside and run my arm back in to try to grab the head. The head has slipped into the depths of the uterus.
I can reach the front legs, but I had to stand on the block of wood to accomplish that feat. With the aid of a little J-Lube, I can pull the calf with little difficulty.
Now the only thing is to get the head. Reaching as far as I can into the uterus, I can only just touch the head. I try again and again. There must be another way.
“When I was in school, the thing that was always stressed was time,” I explained to Dave, as much for my benefit as his. “If you haven’t accomplished what you are trying to do in 20 minutes, you better be doing something else.”
“So, what else is there at this point?” Dave asked. “Are you going to do a C-section for the head?”
“That would be like doing a C-section for the last puppy after spending half the night to deliver the first 10 pups,” I said. “I have been there, done that. If worse comes to worst, we might have to do that. But first, we are going to use some tincture of time. I will put a package of tetracycline powder in this uterus and load her up on some antibiotics. I will recheck her in the morning. Hopefully, this uterus will shrink up enough that I can get ahold of the head and pull it out.”
“You think she will be okay?” Dave asked.
“I think so,” I said. “The cow is a funny beast, though. This calf has been dead in there for a week, and she is looking pretty good. Then I come and dig around in there, and it knocks a lot of bugs off into her bloodstream. We have to load her up on antibiotics. Otherwise, she will be in a problem in the morning. The biggest risk with this plan is if the uterus closes up too much, and we can’t get the head out. Then it will be like that last puppy.”
With the cow taken care of, I started washing up. I exhausted my water supply in the truck, and my arm still smelled.
“Maybe you should come in the house and wash again,” Dave suggested.
I was quick to take him up on that. I scrubbed and scrubbed on my arm before I felt comfortable putting my shirt back on.
The next morning, the view from Dave’s place was eerie, Sweet Home was covered with a dense layer fog. Standing beside the barn and looking out over where you knew the town was, and it looked like you were looking out the window a jetliner at 20,000 feet: nothing but a layer of clouds.
The cow was in the chute, and it was an easy trip. I scrubbed up the old cow and ran an arm in, and there was the head. She probably would have delivered it if I had given her a little more time. Removing it was no problem. I put some more antibiotics into the uterus, and the cow was good to go.
In most cases, that would be the end of the story. But when I stepped into the shower on Saturday morning, I noticed that I had little pustules at every hair shaft on my left arm. Had I lived by myself, I would have taken antibiotics off the shelf at the clinic. But Sandy would not hear of that, so it’s to the doctor of me.
On Saturday morning, I have a little trouble convincing Dr. T that I should be looked at today rather than Monday. I think he relented more out of professional courtesy than real concern for my arm.
Dr. T looked at my left arm carefully. The pustules ran almost to my shoulder. They were small pustules, and there was no real discomfort.
“If you want my opinion,” I said. I always gave the MDs my opinion. “I think I just need some antibiotics and a few good scrubs.”
“I can’t figure this out,” Dr. T says. “This arm looks just like someone who was in a real dirty hot tub. But the rest of you looks fine.”
“Vagina, Doctor, this arm was in a real dirty vagina,” I said.
Dr. T shook his head, “What you guys go through, I will never understand.”