It’s human nature to hope that if an unfortunate event has already happened twice, once more will be the merciful end. There’s no shortage of superstition, wishful thinking, or “unfortunate events” during calving season. Expectations are unnaturally high in order to keep your sanity and hopefully pay off your bank loan.
Assisting in bovine labor and delivery is a God-given gift my sister possesses, though she’ll be the first to reject any praise in that department. Given her large sample size to date, Rachel can typically read all the classic signs of distress and discern when to intervene.
After successful capture, restraint, and palpation (which often happens in the middle of the pasture with the patient tied to a pickup with a lariat rope), she often finds a leg is turned back, a head is turned back, the whole calf is backwards, or a breech is present. This stellar resume, however, was expanded this calving season when what she discovered was none of the above.
With tissue, bones, and other vitals presented along with a deformed set of limbs and upper body, her veterinarian helped her diagnose a rare case--Schistosomus reflexus. This fatal congenital disorder has a 1 in 100,000 chance of occurring and often results in an inverted spine and exposed abdominal viscera.
After adding this anomaly to her mental rolodex of “believe it or not,” she claims the vet then gave her the confidence to “pull it.” Armed with a pocketknife, rope, and calf jack, she created an anchor point in the exposed mass and eventually removed the deformed body. All the while, she managed to keep the cow calm and her two toddler boys out of harm’s way.
“The crowning moment was when I was in her and Gary comes running up jangling the Slinky dog toy and she jumps up,” she noted later.
A sense of humor might be her second God-given gift. Especially since her early morning heifer check the following day revealed one in labor resulting in a dead calf. Later in the day, she discovered a prolapsed cow in another pasture which had to be addressed and brought in.
In the interim, Mama and I were trying our best at babysitting but eventually had to send a Hail Mary distress message as the boys were becoming too rambunctious for a 75-year-old woman who had just had cataract surgery and my essentially useless right shoulder with a torn rotator cuff.
“So yeah, Mama forgot to bring her eye shield and J.B. is throwing balls at her,” I messaged. “And I’m doing my best to defend but you know I can’t lift anything.”
About that time, she and Brant rolled in with the prolapsed cow, unloaded and situated her and then retrieved the boys for desperately needed naps before their scheduled appearance at a neighbor’s birthday party.
In the meantime, Rachel had selected one of the “heavier” heifers to pair with lady prolapse. After the party departure, I noticed the heifer was pacing the fence hard and would likely calve in the next few hours. Rachel returned for a sunset check but still no calf. I walked out again around 8 pm to find a fresh, healthy baby who was ready to nurse. I messaged Rachel with the good news.
“Well good,” she responded. “Then I might actually have a beer. Maybe three.”
Bearden is a biologist with the Geological Survey of Alabama. She writes for Farm Press about the exploits on her family's ranch in Alabama.