The Burrito

 D. E. Larsen, DVM

The rain stopped as I turned off the highway onto Wiley Creek Road. I was disappointed that the twilight was fading fast. I would cross the creek at the falls where the old Wiley mill had been located.

A short distance up the road, I turned onto the side road that crossed the creek just above the old mill site. The bridge was narrow and had no guardrail, and I drove across slowly.

I pulled up to the barn that had lights on. There, in a small pen, I could see a Hereford heifer, standing up and straining, with a couple of feet visible at her vulva.

Angie was there, clutching her small pup to her chest.

“Hi, Angie, this must be the heifer you called about,” I said as I stepped out of the truck.

“Yes, she has been like this for a couple of hours now,” Angie said. “Nobody else was home, and I didn’t know what to do, but it just didn’t look right to me. So I gave you a call.”

Calving difficulties in heifers were as close to routine for me as anything I did. But to these hobby farmers, with only a few cows, calving problems might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“Well, it looks like you did the right thing in calling me,” I said. “If she has been at this for two hours, it is time to give her a little help.”

I poured a bucket of warm water, grabbed my rope, and crawled over the fence into the calving pen. This was a tame heifer, and my presence distracted her enough that she turned around, licked at my arm, and sniffed the bucket of water. Her contractions relaxed for a moment.

I slipped the rope over her head and fashioned a halter with a loop over her nose. Then I walked her over to the fence and tied her to a rail. I left enough rope that she could fall down with no problems. That was something that usually happened if they were not already on the ground.

I tied her tail out of the way with a piece of twine and scrubbed her rear end and my arms. I inserted my left hand into her birth canal and bumped into the calf’s nose. With two feet out and a nose close to the vulva, this will be an easy delivery. I stuck a finger in his mouth, and he sucked on it. He was alive.

“This should be an easy delivery,” I said as I climbed back over the fence to get my OB bag and the calf puller. 

“What’s wrong?” Angie asked.

“Not much, just a young, first-time delivery and a calf that is a little too big for her,” I said. “If we left her through the night, I would guess she would deliver this calf on her own. But sometimes, that takes five or six hours of labor, and the calf may or may not survive. It is better this way. Give them two hours, then give them a little help.”

I put a nylon OB strap on the calf’s feet and positioned the calf puller. I hooked the strap to the puller and started cranking. The vulva stretched as the nose appeared. Then the head popped out. A couple more cranks on the puller and the chest of the calf was in the birth canal. The heifer strained, stiffened, and fell onto her right side.

I pulled the calf puller down toward her hocks and cranked fast. The chest cleared the vulva, and then the rest of the calf followed with a gush. The calf raised his head and shook it. 

“It’s alive!” Angie said.

“He is doing fine,” I said. “A little bull, he will be up before mom.”

I treated his navel with iodine and gave him an injection of BoSe to prevent white muscle disease. He was struggling to stand by the time I was done with him.

Since Angie was home alone, I stripped a few swallows of milk from the heifer and gave it to the calf with an esophageal feeder. Then I untied the twine on the heifer’s tail and removed the rope from her neck. 

After I picked my stuff up and got it over the fence, I swatted mom on the butt with my rope. She jumped up in a flash. She was slow to look at the calf but finally sniffed him as he stalked her on wobbly legs.

“What do I have to do with her now?” Angie asked. 

“I would leave her in here until you are sure she is getting along with the calf and he is nursing,” I said. “Sometimes these heifers take some time to figure out just what is going on, but they do fine most of the time, after a day or so.”

“Well, it’s a relief to see him on the ground,” Angie said.

“What going on that you are here by yourself?” I asked.

“We were on a mission, helping build a church in Mexico,” Angie said. “I had to come home early because everyone down there was calling this little pup of mine Burrito. Everyone said they were teasing me but just had to come home.”

Angie tightened her grip on the pup as she told me the story.

“They were teasing you, I’m sure,” I said. “But when I was in the Army in Korea, I am sure that dog meat found its way to the dinner table. If you read the Lewis and Clark Journals, they ate a lot of dog meat on their trip across the country.”

“I know. I just felt better when we got home,” Angie said. “And I’m glad I was here to get help for this little heifer.”

“Yes, and I think she will be fine,” I said. “But if you have any questions about how things are going, you give me a call.”

Photo by WKN 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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