Springtime in a mixed animal practice generally means one thing: calving season. Saturday was a usual busy calving day with a wide variety of calls from farmers with sick calves, calving problems, and uterine prolapses. I was momentarily at a loss for words when Farmer Fred called and said,
"I have a heifer calving and I just got her into the barn and she went Ape-@#$%.!"
"What do you think I should I do?"
After getting clear in my mind what he had just said I replied,
"Leave her alone for half hour to an hour and see if she will calm down."
I recommended this mostly due to the fact that many cows can get themselves worked up into a frenzy with too much stimulation especially during a stressful time like calving. I also recommended this because I knew I was going up to the area to do a uterine prolapse and I wanted to buy a little time to complete that task. The farmer made it clear that he would be calling back in about an hour if her mood wasn't much improved and would be wanting my assistance. I decided to throw in the dart gun just in case. Sedating a cow that is calving is a really last resort thing because the calf will also be sedated and that combined with the stress of delivery is often too much and we lose the calf. In real bad cases where the cow is also very stressed and down for a long time, you could potentially lose the cow as well
To no-one's surprise my phone had a couple of voice mail messages as I left the farmer with the prolapse, one of which was another plea for help from farmer Fred.
When I arrived on the scene it didn't take long to evaluate the situation and surmise that we were in for a bit of an adventure. Farmer Fred quickly warned me that we would have to dart her because she would try to kill anyone that got close to her. The heifer was in a large pole barn with one other cow and calf. The only door that wasn't frozen shut from excessive snow and ice we had received this winter was in the middle of the east side. There was a head catch with one length of panel next to it in the northeast corner, about 20 yards from the door. The remainder of the barn was wide open space without any other corrals or posts. Our patient was standing in the northwest corner facing the door and charged full speed towards us as we attempted to enter. At a distance of about 30 yards my pistol was not particularly accurate and I needed to get a better shot that wasn't head on. After a couple more futile attempts to enter slowly I began trying to calculate whether I could run fast enough to reach the safety of the panel and head catch before the angry cow could get to me. Even though I ran sprints in high school track I would have to put my money on the cow to win this match race.
With that decision made I began to look around the barn for other options and noticed the rafters and 2x4 braces running horizontally the length of the wall. Spaced like a giant ladder up the wall I realized they were the key to success. I handed my loaded dart gun to farmer Fred and quickly climbed the 2x4s up the wall to the rafters. Fred handed me the gun and I began the climb down the length of the barn halfway hanging from the rafters with my toes walking along on the 2x4 on the wall. Awkward would be an apt description of my movement along the wall hanging/climbing all the while carrying a loaded dart-gun pistol. The cow watched the entire time taking several threatening steps forward. As a result when I reached my destination and jumped down behind the panel she was a short easy shot away. Several minutes later she was down for the count and we sprang to action, hoping that we would be able to get the calf out fast enough to save its life.
Of course, that is not the end of the story. Because my truck was in the shop for some repair work I was borrowing the truck of another doctor and as a result all of his equipment. I got the cow tied up and held down with a rope with a quick release mechanism on it which we soon found out was broken. The cow made one thrashing motion and the quick release did its thing and she was up and we were running faster than you could say "angry cow on the loose".
For my next trick I got another rope; this one a simple lariat. First I tried to toss a loop over the panel onto the head of our angry, yet very sedated, patient. Several attempts of this were unsuccessful and I finally climbed the corral panel. Standing with one foot on either side, almost like you were standing up pigeon-toed in the stirrups on an emaciated horse, I swung my loop like a real cowboy and caught her first try. Surprised at my good luck but needing to hurry we finally got her to go down and we were able to pull the calf without too much effort.
The newly delivered calf was alive but very sedated. I quickly grabbed my reversal and gave it slowly in the vein. I must say that having to give a drug slowly is irritating when you are trying to save a life. I love happy endings and this was one of those. When I left, mom and baby were both alive and well and I was off to my next adventure.