Elk Delivery, From the Archives

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“Doc, I have a cow elk that has been walking around the pasture in labor for the last couple of hours,” Frank said into the phone. “I can see a small sac of fluid and a foot once in a while, but she is not making any progress.”

“If she has been at it a couple of hours, we probably should get a look at her. Don’t dart her until I get up there.”

Frank had quite a variety of exotic animals. Sika deer, Fallow deer, some antelope, and a small herd of elk. The elk herd consisted of a bull and five or six cows. There were no facilities for handling any of these. We were stuck with using a capture dart.

“What drug do you want me to use,” Frank asked as we were loading the dart.

“She is not too high strung, and with this difficult birth, a dose of Rompun will probably do the trick. We want her to recover pretty quickly so she will take care of the calf.”

“She is not too big,” Frank observed. “What kind of a dose should we use?”

I had provided a dosage chart to Frank so he would not have to do any calculations on dosage. The chart was set up to give the volume dose in milliliters for each weight in fifty-pound steps.

“Let’s give her a five-hundred-pound dose,” I said. “She might be a little over that, but not by much. And we want her to recover quickly.”

Rompun was a tranquilizer approved for the horse and small animals. We routinely used it at very low doses on cows. It was useful for short-term procedures that required chemical restraint. Its shortcoming was animals who were flat out could suddenly recover and react defensively.

We stepped through the gate into the elk pasture. The bull and the other cows moved to the far corner. We could usually lure the herd to the feed rack with a bucket of apples, but this problem cow was by herself away from the others. I could see her getting up, turning around, straining, and lying down again.

She did not seem to be bothered by our approach. When we were within twenty yards, she stood up, and Frank fired the dart gun, striking her in the hip with the loaded dart. We moved away to allow the drug to take effect.

Once she was on the ground and her head turned to her side, we approached cautiously. 

“Let’s get a rope on her just in case she jumps up when I start working on her,” I said. “We don’t want to have to give a second dose.”

Jim, Frank’s hired man, placed the lasso over her head and backed away. Holding the rope with gloved hands just in case she came alive.

I removed the dart from her left hind leg and applied some Betadine to the wound. Then I washed her rear end and carefully explored her birth canal. She had no response. 

I could feel one front foot and then the nose. I reached deeper. The second foot was to be found in the birth canal.

“The calf has a front leg back,” I said. “I should be able to get it up into position easily. There is plenty of room in there. He will pop right out once the position is corrected.”

I reached in and ran my hand past the shoulder on the calf and along its side. I grabbed the cannon bone on the retained leg and pulled it forward. Then I flipped the hoof up into the birth canal.

The cow elk raised her head when I corrected the leg position of the calf. I grabbed the front feet and pulled. The calf quickly slipped out onto the ground. I pulled the calf around toward the cow’s head and stood up.

“Go ahead and remove that rope, Jim,” I said.

As soon as the rope was off, I gave the cow a slap on the butt. She instantly jumped to her feet. 

At the same time, she kicked with a hind leg. The kick was directed with deadly accuracy at me. She walked away, going only a few steps up the hill.

I was lucky that I was just far enough from her that it only brushed my shirt. I had a neat imprint of the toes of her hoof on my shirt just above my navel.

“I think that would have hurt a little if I had been an inch or two closer,” I said.

“I would guess so,” Frank said, with an expression of concern on his face.

“Let’s just move away, quietly, down the hill. Hopefully, she will return and take care of this calf,” I said.

I quickly gathered my stuff into my bucket, and we moved down the hill. Looking back, she was watching both us and the calf. By the time we got to the gate, she was back licking the calf.

“Frank, I think we got a little lucky,” I said as we opened the gate and left the pasture. “You want to write that dose down on your chart. That worked perfectly.”

“I’ll try to remember to do that when I get back to the house,” Frank said. “Is there anything I need to do with her now?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “She would have probably been coyote food in the wild. There would have been no way for that calf to come out on its own.”

I watched up the hill as I turned my turn to the gate on the end of the lane. Momma elk was over tending to the calf. Things were going to be okay.

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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