*I suppose some warnings are in order. Some might consider one or two of the following pictures graphic. In comparison to my post on human delivery, however, this is totally G-rated!
My family boasts the largest herd of British White Cattle in the state. I should probably admit that it’s also the only herd in the state and that up until a week ago that herd was an impressive five heifers (we recently sent 7 animals off to the butcher). In the last week the herd has almost doubled (and should be truly doubled by mid November when our last heifer is due to calf).
Over the last week, while I have been on a palliative care elective having a lot of ‘end of life’ discussions, my mother has been keeping a dutiful eye on “our girls” and their ‘beginning of life’ activities. As of this morning we had three beautiful heifer calves added to our herd. Though my mother lost a lot of sleep (and a touch of her sanity) worrying, nature took its course and our first three heifers delivered unassisted.
That changed today. I happened to be on my way home to visit my parents when I got word that Snowflake, the smallest of our heifers, was in active labor. There’d been signs of labor (bulging membranes, and even a foot or two) for a while: my mother actually thought the calf would be delivered overnight, but dawn broke without a new addition to the herd. I hoped I would be able to make it to the farm before the calf was born.
When I reached our farm I found the three post-partum mothers peacefully grazing with their youngsters resting quietly nearby. Our heifer that is due in November was also grazing peacefully. The heifer in labor was pacing around the field, obviously uncomfortable. At time she would lay down and strain, and you would see feet and membranes protruding, but despite her best efforts she didn’t make any progress.
After an hour or so, and after a phone consultation with our bovine vet (who was away on another call and couldn’t come to the farm), we decided to move Snowflake up to the barn and get her in the chute. We were concerned there might be a malpresentation (the feet were coming out first, but we couldn’t tell the orientation and it was possible the calf was upside down), and at this point we were concerned that our little heifer needed assistance.
We got her to the barn and in the chute easily. It happened that a pair of locals (new acquaintances) stopped by the farm to pick up some equipment just as we were getting Snowflake situated, providing an extra pair of hands (and a willing photographer, which makes this post much more interesting!).
While our vet wasn’t able to make it, Snowflake was rather well attended. My mother is a veterinarian (though as a pathologist she hasn’t managed a delivery in many decades), one of our visitors had been a vet tech at an equine hospital for many years, and I’m a fourth year medical student. Not exactly your A-team for a bovine delivery, but you could do worse.
Fortunately my mother had prepared for a labor dystocia (a difficult delivery) and had the requisite calving chains on hand. Quite how I, as the medical student, got the job of doing the internal examination and heavy lifting of the delivery I’m somewhat unsure, but it is certainly a task I will remember for quite some time!
After quite a bit of sweating, grunting, and the occasional obscenity, a healthy bull calf was born. Our smallest heifer was carrying our biggest calf (82 pounds), and while the calf was in a normal presentation, she couldn’t get him out without some extra help. Just as in humans, delivery is determined by the three Ps: the power (the pushing power of the uterus), the pelvis (size of the outlet), and the passenger (the size of the fetus). *
The calf was vigorous- mooing within minutes of birth and nursing within the hour. He now has the distinct pleasure of being the lone British White bull in New Jersey!
*An interesting aside when it comes to comparative obstetrics- in humans and horses we frequently use oxytocin to induce or augment labor. According to our vet it is NOT used for these purposes in cows (though we did have some oxytocin on hand in case it was needed for expulsion of the placenta). Apparently in cows the risk of uterine rupture is quite high with oxytocin use.