The Calf With Its Leg Back 2/27/2014

During calving season, excitement can come at any given moment. The morning started with three calves being born before lunch (two heifers and one cow). After lunch, my husband, father in law, and I decided to cut some firewood. A quick drive through the heavies showed one heifer in with calving on her mind.

Fast-forward one and a half hours, I find myself, splattered with half a bucket of water, afoot on a mad dash across the calving lot dragging some kind of ancient hemp-like lead rope in an attempt to cut off a heifer with a leg-back calf on the way.


Upon our return to the calving lot after cutting wood, we found the heifer attempting to give birth to a calf that had a leg back. We pulled up to her and saw one foot and majority of the calf’s head. From the looks of the calf’s tongue, we still had a chance to save it (as calves are caught in the birth canal, their tongue will swell), but time was of the essence.

My husband swung the pickup around and started speeding out of the calving lot. Around the first corner, we slid sideways through the gate on the snow packed, icy ground. The turn into the cattle guard to the yard was even worse, as we didn’t exactly turn or stop, until the pickup hit the cattle guard (thank goodness the sides are lined with old tractor tires). A quick slam into 4-wheel and reverse, then through the cattle guard and onto the yard.

I ran and back and hollered at my father in law. He went to the house to get a bucket of warm water and sanitizer, lube, and some ob sleeves. My husband ran to the barn to get the calving chains. There was no time to catch and saddle a horse and there was question as to whether or not we could even get the heifer to walk to the cow barn considering how much of the calf was out. I jumped in the pickup with my father in law, who apparently taught my husband how to drive. We went to retrieve up my husband at the cow barn as water from the bucket sloshed all over my lap.

When we reached the heifer again, we got out to see if there was any way to help her in place. In cases where the calf is to be pulled outside, it is ideal to restrain the cow’s head against a post or tree or anything handy and able to restrain a cow (your wife is not ideal). I was rushing to find a rope, anything, and all I could find was this lead rope in the back of the pickup. By the time I had it out, the heifer had gotten up and apparently decided she would travel. So we started walking her towards the barn.

Half way down the calving lot, she freaked and ran herself into the fence before taking off across the calving lot. I sprinted after her and mid-way actually got her turned in the right direction. Usually my horse does these things for me. Between the pickup and two people on feet, we finally got her to the barn and into the calving chute.


My husband suited up in ob sleeves, and proceeded to clean the cow and adjust the calf. When a calf has a leg back, it has to be pushed back into the birth canal. The next step is to cup the leg that’s back, and maneuver it forwards into the right position. Luckily, this wasn’t a big calf and the heifer was well behaved in the chute for what she had just been through. When the calf was in the right position, we attached the calving chains and pulled the calf.


It came out onto the ground in a rush of birthing fluids. Its eyes were open but staring blankly. I grabbed a piece of straw and poked it gently in the calf’s nostrils. I smiled when I saw its nostrils move. It was alive. I started to vigorously rub its chest encouraging it to breathe. Coughing, it took its first breaths in an all air environment. It lifted its head and shook its wet, flopping ears. Nothing can explain the flood of joy I get from watching a new born calf take its first breaths and shake its head in a new world.

We rubbed some of the after birth on the mother’s nose (this helps her recognize the smell of her calf) and put the calf into a stall. The heifer was released and backed out of the chute and found her calf in the pen. Her low and gentle mooing to the calf was a sure sign that she liked him. She began to lick him off as he adjusted to life.

I just love it when it ends this way.


The graphics used were from two articles that have great information on dystocia (abnormal birth) in cattle.

Colorado State University, Calving and Handling Calving Difficulties

Alberta Agriculture and rural Development, Calving


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