Four Front Feet 

 D. E. Larsen, DVM

I slowed as I approached Sudie’s driveway. It was hard to see in the daylight and almost impossible at ten o’clock at night.

Sudie was waiting at the barn and waved when I pulled into the driveway. A late-night call was unusual for Sudie, especially on a Saturday night. She was generally pretty good at watching her cows and calling early if there were any problems.

“Sorry to be calling so late, Dave,” Sudie said as I stepped out of the truck. “This cow was acting a little odd earlier this evening, and I got her in the barn, but she didn’t show any signs of labor until about nine. She is straining hard, and nothing is showing. I figured you would feel better about checking her now rather than at two in the morning.”

I could see the cow in the small pen in the barn. She was straining hard with her tail up and humped up some also. With this much straining, something should be showing.

“Looking at her, she is straining hard enough, and nothing is showing. There has to be a problem,” I said.

“She had twins last year,” Sudie said. “She is a big cow. I guess that helps. She didn’t have any problems last year, but I suppose it is easy for twins to get tangled up in there. Do you want me to put her in the chute?”

“No, I will just put a rope on her and tie her to the corner of the corral,” I said. “That way, if she goes down when I start pulling, there won’t be any problems.”

I crawled into the pen and threw a rope over her head. She was gentle enough, or bothered by her labor, that I could have dropped it over her head. I fashioned a halter by pulling a loop over her nose and then tied her to a corner of the corral with enough slack that she should fall with no problem.

“Hand me that bucket, Sudie,” I said. “Hold it up, and I will reach it and pull it over the top rail.”

Sudie was a farm girl from Arago. Her brother was a high school classmate of mine. During the daylight hours, she taught chemistry and physics at the high school. She was small in structure but an exceptional individual. She hoisted that bucket up to the top rail with no problem.

I tied the cow’s tail to the side and washed her vulva. Then I ran my left arm into her birth canal. There were four feet at the pelvic brim. This was unusual, even for twins. I checked each foot closely, all front feet.

“Well, I have four front feet in the birth canal,” I said. “Now I just have to sort them out.”

“I hope that means twins and not some fetal monster,” Sudie said.

“Four feet in the birth canal is unusual, and a monster is possible,” I said. “But I will spend a minute and figure this out.”

I reached deeper into the uterus and found one head and then another. I pushed one foot back into the uterus and followed it to its head, then moved the other leg of that calf back out of the way.

I slipped a nylon OB strap on the two feet remaining in the birth canal. The cow was staining again as the one calf now had a pathway to escape. I guided the head into the birth canal and gave a tug on the OB strap. The calf almost slipped out on its own.

“Wow! That looked easy,” Sudie said. 

“This gal has tons of room,” I said. “This is a big calf for a twin. He’s a bull and must weigh ninety pounds.”

I reached back into the cow and pulled the second calf’s feet back into the birth canal. The cow was straining hard again as I struggled to get the OB strap onto the front feet.

I recalled the advice the old veterinarian in Enumclaw had given me.

“Sometimes you have to hold those calves in there for a few minutes so it looks like you have earned your fee,” the old vet had said.

I hurriedly slipped the OB strap on the front feet and gave one short pull, and had to catch the calf so it didn’t land head-first on the barn floor. 

“Both calves are bulls,” I said. “That’s good, and they both are large for twins.”

I put my arm back into the cow to make sure there wasn’t a third calf. That was highly unlikely and even more unlikely with the size of these two.

“Why do you check again after two large calves?” Sudie asked.

“For a couple of reasons,” I said. “I can check for any injury to the birth canal and can make sure there isn’t another calf. My Enumclaw boss explained to me one morning how he had checked a cow after delivering a calf, and there was a twin. He wanted me to make sure I always made a final check.”

“Does that happen very often?” Sudie asked.

“No, not often,” I said. “But that very afternoon, we had to return to that farm and pull a third calf out of that cow. It was a dead triplet. The boss had failed to check the cow after the second calf.”

“So you learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of other vets,” Sudie said.

“I stand on the shoulders of many men and women,” I said. 

I cleaned and treated both calves with Bo-Se and applied iodine to their navels. When I loaded everything back into the truck and glanced at my watch, it wasn’t eleven yet.

“Check these guys in the morning, Sudie,” I said as I got in the truck. “Call me if you have any questions or if I need to look at them.”

I would be home, showered, and in bed well before midnight. Maybe I will go fishing at Lost Lake in the morning.

Photo by Rick Monteiro 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.

One thought on “Four Front Feet 

  1. It’s good that Sudie called you when she did and not hours of straining later, when momma might not have enough strength left or one of the calves or even both had died. Much safer to involve the vet early.


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