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Trying to look cool while calving

Jake Geis for Progressive Cattle Published on 12 March 2020

Those TV shows about vets make it look easy. Doc gets a call about a calf that needs to be pulled, and he or she speeds over to the farm in a jiffy. There, things are set up nicely for a few quick turns inside the cow, and the calf comes out nicely.

It doesn’t work like that in real life.

No, I do my best to be the “cool vet,” for whom things always go well. And most times they do. But, somewhere between muddy roads and crabby cows, I don’t end up looking like a TV veterinarian.

I submit the following as example A. I got a call on a Saturday afternoon from a guy about a cow calving. He said the calf seemed all twisted up and didn’t make any sense. I hopped in the pickup to head down his way, sliding back and forth on the soft roads we’ve become accustomed to in southeast South Dakota the past couple years.

When I got there, he wasn’t at the barn, but his son was and had the cow in the chute. I suited up and crawled into the alley behind the cow. There I cleaned her off and reached inside. Sure enough, the back legs were curled into a C-shape and the calf had an open hernia. The calf was dead, so I figured we’d try to pull it out gently first, and if that didn’t work, we’d cut it out via fetotomy.

The calf was breach, but the back legs popped up smoothly. It was a small calf, so even though it was curled, it would fit out fairly simply. The trouble was the cow wasn’t dilated yet, so I hooked the chains on and gently applied pressure to help the cow open up.

As she started to dilate, I applied more pressure until I was leaning backward. I could see the calf’s rump, and so I began to tell the owner it would come out soon. That’s when it happened.

The calf shot out like a champagne cork into my lap. As I had been leaning fairly far backward to keep pressure on the calf, I took a step back to catch my balance. That step landed my foot in my steel bucket full of soapy water. With my means of balance fully compromised, I began my free fall backward into the alley. I landed softly in a pile of excrement, dead calf on my lap, and my foot stuck in a bucket and fully saturated.

Once again, it doesn’t work like TV in real life.

If this was my only story like this, I’d say it was a one-off deal. Alas, calving has humbled me more than once. Especially when working with my wife. You see, my wife is also a veterinarian, and once upon a time we practiced together, before she wised up and took a government job that doesn’t require 2 a.m. cesarean sections. We used to go on calls together for fun, because what else do you do for a date night when you’re both drowning in student debt? Real romantic.

So this one evening, we’re trying to get a calf out of a cow that won’t cooperate. If we put her in the owner’s chute, she would go down and try to choke herself out. So, we let her out of the chute to tie her to a post. She proceeded to get up and down repeatedly, making the job impossible.

Frustrated and needing to address this situation, I told my wife to just sit on the cow. Being a new vet, she gingerly leaned on the cow’s side. “No, I mean sit on her like this!” I said and plopped my rear end and all my weight on the unruly bovine. The stare I received back told me it would take more than a dozen roses to fix the mess I gotten myself into, but begrudgingly, my wife sat on that cow. I then was able to pull the calf.

If your marriage can survive this, you’re gold.

Calving season isn’t over, so I’m sure I’ll get a few more opportunities to have cows and calves make a fool of me. But the nice part about it all is the reward of seeing a wet calf raise its head up and shake its ears. That touch makes the chaos of calving worth it.  end mark

Jacob Geis is a veterinarian and blogger in Freeman, South Dakota.

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