A Potential Wreck

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Joan was a new owner on a ranch on Brush Creek. Joan was an older lady and had a ranch in Eugene. When we first met, I thought she seemed knowledgeable about cows. But in the last few months, Joan has been moving more cows from her ranch in Eugene. At this point, she has more cattle here than this ranch can support. She must be bringing feed from other sources, as the pastures are already starting to look barren.

Today she has a cow with a prolapse. The girls in the office didn’t get a complete history, or more than likely, Joan wasn’t entirely sure about just what she was looking at, but she knew she had a problem.

The hired man had the cow in the chute when I pulled into the barnyard. She looked like a young black baldy.

“Hi, I’m Bob,” Bob said as I stepped out of the truck. “Joan couldn’t be here, but she gave me instructions to have this cow in the chute before you arrived.”

“Bob, I’m Doctor Larsen,” I said as we shook hands. “What can you tell me about his cow.”

“Not much, Doc,” Bob said. “Joan doesn’t keep records much, and the bulls run with the cows all the time. This prolapse just popped out this morning, and I figured we needed to get you to take a look.”

“I will do a rectal exam on her first,” I said. “My guess is she is at some stage of pregnancy if the bulls run with the herd all the time. Do you know if anyone has talked with Joan about running a breeding season and a calving season?”

“I have talked with her some,” Bob said. “You have to understand, Doc, Joan is not in this business to make money. She has plenty of money. She is just giving as many cows as she can a place to live.”

I was deep in thought about how I would manage this herd when I ran my left hand into this cow’s rectum. I didn’t have to go in very far. There were feet and a nose at the brim of the pelvis. This was a full-term calf.

Vaginal prolapses in the near term are always tricky to handle. Getting the prolapse back in place is no problem unless it has been present so long that the tissue has dried. I worked on one of those with Clint Johnson when we were seniors at Colorado State. Keeping it in place is the problem because of the pending delivery.

An old veterinarian in Enumclaw told me he used a wine bottle as a pessary. I had used that in a llama once, and it worked great. But who travels with an empty wine bottle in the truck.

I devised a method to suture the vulva closed to allow the cow to deliver the calf in most cases. I was never absolutely confident that there would not be problems, so close monitoring for pending labor was mandated.

I would place hog rings down each side of the vulva, a couple of inches out. They were placed just about out at the hairline on the thighs. Then I would close the vulva by lacing some quarter-inch OB tape through the hog rings like one would lace up a boot. I placed these hog rings with just a slight pinch on the skin. Just enough of a bite to maintain the closure, but little enough that the push of the calf in labor would tear out the hog rings and all the cow to deliver the calf.

“Bob, this cow is going to calve sometime in the next few days,” I said. “I am going to put this prolapse back in place, and I am going to close up her vulva in a manner that will allow her to pee, and most of the time, it will allow her to push the calf through the closure. But she is going to have to be monitored closely until she calves.”

“There might be a problem with the monitoring part, Doc,” Bob said. “I am leaving in the morning, and I will be gone for a long week. Joan will be here, but just between you and me, she is not very good at keeping an eye on anything.”

“Will you be able to check her in the morning?” I asked. “If you could do that and give me a buzz, then I will check with Joan in the evening. Or, if I have the time, I will just run by and check the cow myself. Where will you have her?”

“I will fix her up in the little corral by the barn,” Bob said. “That way she can get under cover is she wants, and she will have hay and water. You will be able to catch her easily.

“That will be great,” I said. “In the morning, you don’t need to do anything other than let me know she is not in labor. If there is any question, I will just run by and check. You can be off.”

“Joan should be here sometime in the afternoon,” Bob said. “I will call her this evening and make sure she checks the cow. But, Doc, like I said, I don’t know how much trust you can put in her observations.”


“Joan, this is Doctor Larsen. I was just wondering if you have checked the cow that Bob has in the little corral next to the barn?” I asked when Joan answered the phone.

“Bob talked to me about her last night,” Joan said. “I checked her, but I don’t see any problem.”

Bob’s words were ringing in my head. I had a strange feeling that I needed to run out and check this cow this evening.

“That’s okay, Joan,” I said. “I have some free time this evening, and I will drop by and check her.”

“Okay, if you think that is necessary,” Joan said. “You know where she is at. I will be fixing our dinner, so you can just come and go as you please.”

I didn’t run my practice on strange feelings, but this cow was very close to calving. After Bob’s comments, I had little trust that she would be rechecked until tomorrow afternoon. I checked the water tank in the truck and loaded up to go.

The cow was up and walking around the little corral when I pulled into the barnyard. Her tail was elevated, indicating labor had started. Now I was relieved that I decided to come to check on her.

I threw a rope over her head from the top rail on the corral and jumped down into the corral. After I pulled a loop of rope over her nose to form a halter, I tied her to a post. 

I tied her tail out of the way with twine tied around her neck. After scrubbing her rear end, I unlaced the hog rings. I washed up and ran my left hand into her vagina. Her cervix was open, and the amnion was bulging through the cervix. I poked my finger through the tough membrane with a stiff push and pulled the flexed finger back to rupture the amnion. The thick mucoid fluid gushed out.

From that point, I attached my nylon OB strap to the front feet and pulled the calf with manual traction. The cow stood for the entire process. 

I removed the hog rings and checked the cow for another calf, and there was no calf. While I was in there, I gave the membranes a firm tug, and they came out, splattering on the calf.

I gave the calf a BoSe injection and treated his navel. This guy will be and bouncing around the corral in the morning. 

I didn’t stop at the house, I will call her in the morning. I suspected that the cow would have delivered the calf through my closure. But I will be able to sleep tonight, thinking that I avoided a potential wreck.

Photo by Kat Smith on 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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