The System is Made to Work

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“Doc, I have a young heifer down in the barn,” Rob said into the phone. “She is awake and staining, almost like she is in labor, but nothing is happening, and she isn’t much over a year old.”

At least she is in a barn, I thought as I looked out the window at the snow falling. It had been snowing since the middle of the afternoon and it is eight o’clock now.

“Where do you have her, Rob?” I asked. I knew Rob lived on a hill outside of town. I had to put chains on the truck to get home this evening, Rob’s slope was steeper than our hill.

“She is in the old barn down by the road, below the house,” Rob said. “You should be able to get to it pretty well with your truck, especially if you have chains.”

“It will take me a few minutes to get around,” I said. “I should be there in about 30 minutes.”

  “What do you think could be wrong with her, Doc?” Rob asked.

“We will just have to wait for me to look at her,” I said. “But you know, if it looks like a horse, it is probably a horse. And if she looks like she is calving, she is probably calving.”

“Doc, she is only a long yearling,” Rob said. “How could she be calving. That would mean she would have to have been bred when she was 4 or 5 months old.”

“I know, Rob, it doesn’t sound likely,” I said. “But I have seen it a whole number of times. The system is made to work, you know.”

“Okay, I will be waiting at the barn,” Rob said. “You might want to bring a lantern if you have one. There are no lights in the barn.”

I pulled on coveralls, boots, and bundled up against the cold before stepping outside to check the truck. I wanted to be sure the water tank was full, and everything was ready for the call.

It was a little chilly, but Western Oregon seldom saw the severe cold that we would have in Colorado. Nonetheless, I need to be prepared to do a C-section on this heifer, in a cold barn, with no electricity, and no help other than Rob. If I remember correctly, Rob would not be much help after the first cut was made.

The snow was coming down heavy now. Large flakes filled the sky. There were nearly 8 inches at the house, Rob’s barn would be at a comparable elevation. I was glad that I had put chains on the truck earlier.

I could see Rob’s lantern in the barn’s doorway, and the gate across the driveway was open. It needed an extra foot on the gas peddle to pull the truck in close to the barn.

“I was able to get her up and moved into the haymow,” Rob said. “There is not much hay in there, and it is a lot cleaner. She is down again and not moving much.”

The heifer was small, maybe 14 months of age, certainly not old enough to be delivering a calf.

“Let me get a rope on her first,” I said. “I don’t want to have to chase her around this haymow if she decides to jump up.”

After tying her to a post, I started looking her over. She had some udder development, and her vulva was swollen and relaxed. I washed up her rear end and pulled on an OB sleeve. 

A vaginal exam revealed an open cervix and a nose of a calf. There was no room for even the head of the calf to enter the birth canal. I stuck a finger in the calf’s mouth. The tongue recoiled at my touch, the calf was alive.

“There is a live calf in there,” I said. “And there is absolutely no room for it in the birth canal. We are going to have to do a C-section.”

“Can you do it here,” Rob asked. 

“If we get enough light fixed up, I will be fine,” I said. “I have done it in far worse conditions.”

We rolled her up on her back and propped her there with a couple of bales of hay. I tied her hind legs together and stretched them back, tying them to a post. 

I was all set, the belly was clipped with my battery clippers, and I had completed a surgical prep. I laid out the instruments and did a local block on the proposed incision line. Then I laid out an extra syringe of Lidocaine, just in case I needed it.

I stripped out of my outer jacket, and I was glad that I had put on a vest. I could feel the cold on my bare arms. This is going to be a fast surgery, I thought to myself.

I picked up the scalpel, but before I could make the initial incision, Rob interrupted the calm.

“Doc, I have to run-up to the house to the bathroom,” Rob said. “Are you going to be alright here?”

“I am going to be fine,” I said. “It might be good if I have a hand to pull this calf up out of her, but it will be a small calf. Get back here if you can.”

My memory was correct, Rob was not one to be around when there was any blood. I guess it was better he was at the house than passed out down here.

The surgery went well. I kept the incision as short as I thought I could. The calf was kicking his hind legs as soon as I incised the uterus. I grabbed the legs, stood up, and pulled the calf out of the uterus. 

He flopped on the ground and shook his head. I don’t think he weighed 50 pounds, but he was a vigorous little thing.

With the short incisions, I had things closed up in short order. I released the heifer’s hind legs and moved the bales so she could roll over and rest on her sternum. She was a little surprised when I pulled the calf over under her nose. 

I cleaned myself up and put my jacket on again. The warmth was welcome. The heifer jumped up when I released the rope around her neck. Rob came through the back door of the barn about that time.

“How are things going?” Rob asked.

“You have a spunky little calf, and his mom seems to have some idea what she is supposed to do,” I said. “I would keep them in for a few days to make sure everything is going to be okay. I will get back up here when this snow melts and check her over. You call if you think I need to look at her before then.”

“How did this happen, Doc?” Rob asked.

“You have to separate the bull from the herd after breeding season,” I said. 

“Will, I guess I don’t have a breeding season,” Rob said. “There always seems to be a cow or two needs some extra time to get pregnant.”

“If you want to rest from calving, where you are not calving all year long, you have to cull those cows,” I said. “They might be good cows, but every year they will be a little later, and pretty soon you lose an entire year. Plus, when you get around to selling your calves, you will get a better price if they are all about the same age.”

“I guess you are right,” Rob said. “I just never thought that a heifer could get pregnant at 4 or 5 months of age.”

“Like I said before,” I said. “The system is made to work.”

Photo by Will Mu 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.

2 thoughts on “The System is Made to Work

  1. Reminds me of the old vet joke, when the vet said to the old spinster: “Your cat is pregnant and having kittens!”
    She answered:”That is impossible, she was only in the house with me. No Tom could get to her”
    Hearing that, the vet saw a male cat strutting along.
    “Uhm what about this one?”
    “Don’t be ridiculous, that is her brother!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your writings bring a lot of memories back and make me laugh! You are a very talented writer and hope you continue. I am proud that I am a colleague as well as a classmate! God bless! Chuck Coleman

    Liked by 1 person

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