The Unborn Calf


"Old Speedball" [Speedy], the matriarch of our dairy herd was old and slow. I don't know how old she was but she was always the last one coming from the pasture into the barn. Her bag [udder in gentile company] hung down almost to the ground and flopped around as she walked.. She may have been old, but she was feisty and independent. None of the other cows dared to boss her around.

I think she wanted to show her independence by being different and having her calves born her own way, backward. Normally a calf being born shows his front legs first, followed by the head with nose to the front. Once in a while I would have a calf try to come out with the head turned over backward. Then it was a" no-go". I would have to push the calf back in far enough so there would be room inside the cow to turn the head around into the right position.

I guess Speedy wanted to be different so she had her calves in a standing position and headed out backwards. In her case the hind legs appeared first and she dropped the calf out and down onto the ground with no trouble. It seemed to me that the backward position made an easier birth for the cow than the normal front facing position. One fairly common problem in either case was when one leg would be bent in a backward position. Birth was impossible that way. Then the only remedy would be to go in and straighten out the leg and get both legs headed in the right direction. This was not usually easy to do. The leg being longer required more "turning room" than turning a head back, but I did it several times.

One incident like this turned into a tragedy. One of our most promising young cows was coming due. She was a registered purebred Holstein whose sire was a young bull that my cousin, Henry Jones, of Deansboro gave us. Henry was a highly respected farmer, with a widely known registered herd. The bull calf he gave us [I named it Henry] was from one of his top bloodlines. One morning I saw the cow was starting labor. I kept watching her and finally saw only one front hoof and the calf's nose. One leg was twisted backward. Her constant straining began to tire her. She was in the barn lying down with her head in the stanchion and her rear end out over the gutter.

I took off my shirt, lay down on the floor and began to work the calf farther back in to turn its leg. I braced myself against a barn post and worked as hard as I could against the cow's instinctive pushing back. The harder I pushed, the harder she strained to deliver the calf. I just wasn't strong enough to do it. I think I strained every muscle in my body in my extreme effort. I was dirty, sweaty and frustrated. Finally I gave up and called a vet. He was a young man, the son of vet who had done work for us before. The father had, not long before, been killed in an automobile accident. The vet arrived shortly and he worked for a long time as I had done. He was equally unsuccessful.

He said there was just not enough room in there to turn that long leg. All this time the cow was in great pain and growing weaker. He said there was nothing else to do but to beef her. So sadly and reluctantly I did so.

The crowning misery to add to the situation came a few weeks later when I talked to another vet and told him the story. He said, " What kind of a vet did you have? I have often had to take such calves out in pieces". He said any good vet could have dissected the calf, and removed the parts a piece at a time, at least saving the mother. I felt sick!

Another tough and costly farm lesson learned!

Charles E. Page 2003