A Little Bit of Magic Helps Sometimes

D.E. Larsen, DVM

“How long has she been down, Dick?” I asked, standing over a young heifer that had just delivered a calf.

“When I got this afternoon, she had this calf hanging halfway out of her,” Dick said. “The calf was dead, I hooked onto it with the tractor and drug her and the calf around the pasture. On the second time around, we hit a bump, and the calf popped out. When she wasn’t up when I got home after the football game this evening, I figured I had better give you a call.”

“I think you would have been better off if you had called me before hooking up the tractor,” I said. “When I have a calf in a hip lock, and the calf is dead, I cut the calf into a few pieces to get it out without doing any more damage to the heifer. But that is water under the bridge now. Let me check her over, and we can talk about what needs to be done at this point in time.”

“What do you do if the calf is alive?” Dick asked.

“That is my worst nightmare,” I said. “We have a few options today, but it is a nightmare. Decisions are often made based on economics. How much is the calf worth versus how much is the heifer worth.”

“This calf was half Simmental,” Dick said. “They say she would be worth $1200.00. That is a lot more than this $400.00 heifer is worth. Or should I say, was worth.”

“Sometimes, we can manipulate the calf in the birth canal,” I said. “If we can turn the calf 90 degrees, so the hips are up and down in the birth canal instead of across the canal, we can sometimes pop the calf through. If the hips are only slightly too wide, pushing them higher in the birth canal will do the trick. The heifer’s pelvis is wider at the top. Then there is a high-risk procedure for the heifer. If the heifer is young enough, we can split the pelvis’s bottom and get the calf out.”

“That doesn’t sound like fun,” Dick said.

“That is what I was saying,” I said. “It is my worst nightmare. Luckily, we have solved the problem somewhat by measuring the pelvis on the heifers before breeding. That, and people are learning that these big Simmentals don’t make the commercial producer any more money than the standard breeds.

We were in a small pasture on the top of Marks Ridge, overlooking the entire town of Sweet Home. It was quite a view at 10:00 PM, with all the lights shining brightly.

“You have quite a view up here,” I remarked.

“Yes, I really enjoy it,” Dick said. “But it is one hell of a drive to town in the wintertime. The wife worries herself sick about one of the kids killing themselves going down the road in the snow.”

“I guess there are pluses and minuses to any location,” I said.

I cleaned the heifer up and did a vaginal exam. Somewhat to my surprise, there were no vaginal injuries. Her hind legs had really restricted function, however.

“Dick, this heifer has Obturator Paralysis,” I said. “When that calf was stuck at his hips in the birth canal, and then you pulled her out in the manner you did, the obturator nerves were damaged. Those are the main nerves going to the inside muscles of the hind legs.”

“I suppose I have nobody to blame except myself,” Dick said. “Is she going to be alright?”

“Time will tell,” I said. “Some of these cases never get up again. Some get up in the first few days of injury, and some get up after a week or two of working with them. Some veterinarians hoist these cows up with a medieval contraption that clamps on the hips bones. It takes some pressure off the muscles when a cow is down for an extended period. I have never liked those. After a few days, you end up with damage up here on the hip bones.  If these cows are going to walk again, they will do it in a few days. Beyond that time, the odds are not good.”

“What do we do with her tonight?” Dick asked.

“I am going to give her a big dose of magic,” I said.

“That sounds like witchcraft,” Dick said.

“The good thing is we are not long after her injury,” I said. “My magic is in a dose of Dexamethasone. This is a potent steroid, a big anti-inflammatory medication. With a little luck, we can reduce the inflammation around those injured nerves. If we get really lucky, she might be on her feet in the morning.”

“That would be good,” Dick said. “If not, I would guess I should be moving her to get her undercover.”

“Yes, but we have to do that carefully,” I said. “Many of these heifers, that would get up, end up being injured because they are moved around or picked up with all sorts of jury-rigged contraptions. Many times, those injuries end up being fatal. For tonight, we will just leave her here. You give me a call first thing in the morning, and I will run up here and help you move her if she is not up.”

“Well do,” Dick said. “And you need to take it slow going down that hill tonight. There will be some frost on a couple of those corners this time of the year.”

Dick called first thing in the morning. He was in a jovial mood.

“Your magic seems to have done the trick,” Dick said. “That heifer was up waiting at the feed rack when I went out this morning. Thanks for your good work and quick response last night.”

“We got a little lucky,” I said. “What I want you to do now is go out and tape my phone number on the steering wheel of that tractor. Just so you remember to call me before you try to pull another calf with that thing.”

Photo by Pixabay 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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