Initiation by Fire

D. E. Larsen, DVM

We tried to hire at least one high school student to work at the clinic most of the time. This provided them with some dollars in their pockets and some valuable work experience. It also provided them with some exposure to a medical care environment.

We generally allowed ample time to train and learning by osmosis, which I preferred. Typically, after a couple of weeks, most of the students were helpful around the clinic.

“I don’t know if we can get much busier than we are right now,” Jolene said.

“I have always felt that a solo, mixed veterinary practice was sort of self-limiting,” I said. “One person can only do so much. If everything is going to be done by a professional, there is a definite limit. I can’t work twenty-four hours.” 

We were running a little short-handed with Sandy and Jolene, the only employees. That was when we decided to hire a high school student to help out in the afternoon.

Today was Lauren’s first day at work. Sandy had filled out all the required paperwork while Jolene and I completed an afternoon emergency surgery. 

“I have to run to the bank and to the accountant to do some errands,” Sandy said as we just finishing up in the surgery room. “You guys and show Lauren around a bit.”

Sandy was no more than out the door when the phone rang. Jolene rushed to answer the call.

“Sweet Home Veterinary Clinic, good afternoon. How can I help you?” Jolene said into the phone.

“This is Byron. I have one heck of a mess out here,” Byron said. “I have my best cow in labor, and nothing is happening. I went in to her, and all I feel is a bunch of legs. She either has twins, or something is all twisted up in there. I need Doc out here right now!”

“Just a minute, Byron,” Joleen said. “I will talk with Doc and see when we can get out there. Things are sort of a piled-up right now.”

“I don’t have a minute,” Byron said. “This is an emergency. I need Doc now, not a couple of hours from now.”

With that, the phone was dead.

“That was Byron,” Jolene said. “He has a calving problem with his best cow and wants you out there now.”

Okay, let’s get ready and go,” I said.

“It might be an hour or more before Sandy gets back,” Jolene said. “Lauren hasn’t had any instruction. This is her first day, almost her first hour.”

“We will just have to make do,” I said. “I will need a hand at Byron’s, he seldom has those cows caught, and they are usually in the far end of the barn.”

We double-checked the truck to make sure we were ready to go, then I went back into the clinic to give some basic instruction to Lauren.

“Okay, Lauren,” I said. “You are going to have to run this place until either Sandy gets back or we get back. For any phone calls, you take a message, and we will return the call. Make sure you know who you are talking to. You are in command of the conversation. You get their full name, telephone number, and problem. You do the same with anybody who comes through the door. Don’t take any money. It can wait. You will just get in trouble with Sandy if the drawer doesn’t balance. Got it?”

“I guess,” Lauren said, looking a bit overwhelmed standing behind the counter.”

“Initiation by fire,” I said as I walked out the door.

It was a short drive out to the Calapooia River, where Byron’s place was located. We pulled up to the barn where Byron was waiting.

“I have her in the calving pen in the back,” Byron said. “Thanks for coming so quick.”

The cow was easy to catch, and we tied her in the corner. I tied her tail out of the way and scrubbed her vulva. Nothing was showing as far as a calf was concerned. I scrubbed my left arm and ran into her vagina.

There were three legs at the cervix. It took me a couple of minutes to sort things out. These calves were small, based on the size of the feet and legs. Three front legs meant two calves.

Finally, I got my arm in far enough to find the head of one of the calves. It was turned back to its left side. This calf was small enough to allow me to correct the head position and pull the head and front legs into the birth canal. Then with a good pull by hand, I pulled the calf the rest of the way out. The calf hit the ground and shook her head. 

“Looks like you have a nice little heifer,” I said to Byron. “Now we just have to get the next one out.”

“There’s another one?” Byron asked.

“There’s at least one more,” I said. “This calf is pretty small, and you are in the middle of your calving season. There could be three.”

“I have never seen triplets,” Byron said.

“I have once,” I said. “In Enumclaw, and we lost one of those because it wasn’t detected at first.”

I reached in and grabbed the two front feet at the cervix now. This head was turned back to the calf’s right side. Again, the head position was quickly corrected, and the calf was delivered with the traction of one hand.

“Another heifer,” I said. “You have hit a gold mine here, Byron.”

“That’s good,” Byron said. “I will take all the heifers I can get out of this old girl.”

I reached back into the old cow. There was another calf, deep in the uterus. It took me a moment to get a grip on the feet and get the calf up the birth canal. This calf felt a bit larger than the first two.

I was still able to deliver him with manual traction, but the final tug required both hands. He landed on the ground and shook his head. I looked; it was a little bull.

“Bad news, Bryon,” I said. “This one is a bull calf.”

“What does that mean?” Byron asked. “Oh, doesn’t that cause a problem with the heifers sometimes?”

“Almost all the time,” I said. “I don’t know about triplets, for sure. Usually, it requires a fusion of the membranes, and it could be that only one of these is involved. The male hormones develop first, and it interferes with the development of the female. Over ninety percent of the heifers born twin to a bull calf will be a Free Martin. They will be infertile. There is a growing body of evidence that the males will have somewhat reduced fertility also.”

“So that doesn’t sound good. If I breed these heifers and one gets pregnant, is anything transmitted to their calf?” Byron asked.

“No, if they breed, they are good to go,” I said. “Just don’t get your hopes up.”

“This cow is going to have a bunch of membranes to pass, and these multiple births often have retained membranes,” I said. “So I am going to put some antibiotics into her uterus, just to get a jump on things. You need to watch her closely and call me if she stops eating or if she still hasn’t passed her membranes in a couple of days.”

We cleaned things up and hurried back to the clinic. 

“I hope things haven’t been too bad for Lauren,” Jolene said. “That phone can go crazy at times.”

Sandy was back in the office when we returned. Lauren had handled things pretty well and had a list of calls to be returned.

“That was not fair of you to leave Lauren here by herself,” Sandy said as I came through the door.

“I don’t know,” I said. “At least we found out that we made a good hire. Like I told her when we left, Initiation by Fire.”

Photo by Clair Rush on Unsplash

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 “Initiation by Fire

  1. Well, you wouldn’t have fired Lauren if she had made a mistake, so it was nerve wrecking but without serious consequences for her. And you did not have a choice. Do you remember if those heifers were indeed infertile?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It occurs in cattle at over a 90% level. It has been observed in sheep, goats, pigs, and camelids. I have never recognized it in any other species and I would expect those numbers to very low. I have never seen a number or a percentage.

      The Merck Vet Manual has a searchable app that is an easy reference to access. It is pretty good but should not be considered as ones only source.

      Liked by 3 people

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