I am very thankful the overwhelming majority of cows calve on their own. God made these creatures tough, with a strong will to survive. So when a cow goes into labor, the typical result is ranchers might catch her starting to labor, but they’ll probably just find her with her new baby after it’s over.
However, this is not always the case. There are a number of reasons a calf might not spit out of his mother like a rocket during the labor process. Sometimes the calf is just a bit too big and needs to be delivered via Cesarean. Other times it is because a calf is not coming out the correct direction. A calf is supposed to be delivered from a cow like a person would dive into a swimming pool–front limbs extended forward with the head lying between and directly on top of them. The calf’s back should be pointed towards the cow’s spine.
This isn’t always the case. If the opposite occurs, with the calf coming back feet first, but the spine pointed up, the cow usually will give birth to that calf without any trouble. Sometimes the calf comes breech, which means it is coming “tail first”. Both back legs are down in the uterus and the calf’s rump is sticking into the cow’s pelvis. This will always require the help of a person to correct.
There are several other ways things can go wrong, but like I said, it doesn’t happen very often. When it does, I get the call to figure out how to straighten the calf back out so it can be delivered successfully. After two years of this as a veterinarian and a decade and a half as a rancher, I’d seen a fair number of odd fetal positions. But this past week, I had one that was coming upside down with the head turned back. That was a new one.
I started to work on getting this calf out, however, since there were some people at the clinic visiting, they were curious as to what I was doing. I’m sure it is not a normal sight for most folks to see a man with his arm buried to the armpit in a cow, straining and making faces as he tries desperately with all the strength his fingertips can provide to just get a tightly wedged head turned around.
It took a good half hour, but I finally got the calf straightened out. We were able to get him out of the cow, but unfortunately the difficult labor was too much for him and he didn’t make it. Still, being able to save the cow in a circumstance as rare and traumatic as this one is a victory in itself.