A Vet Call for the Calf with its Head Back

I shown the spotlight into the back of the trailer and just hoped she’d walk in. Some coaxing words and a couple pokes with a cattle prod made her cautiously step inside. My husband closed the door and we got in the pickup. The 25 miles to town was quiet except for Loretta Lynn on the radio singing “One’s on the Way” amongst some other classics. We pulled down a dead end road to a dimly lit gravel “parking lot” and I got out to help my husband back up to the vet clinic.

A garage door opened and there stood our old vet, rolling some tobacco into a cigarette. “Is it dead?” he asked. “I’m pretty sure he is. He’s got his head back, way back, and we can hardly get it. She’s been trying to have him since 1 this afternoon.” I replied. It was 12:30 am.

The cow was #122, a nice three year old. She was calm and well behaved but had already had a very poor night. We walked her into the calving chute at the vet clinic as another trailer pulled up. The couple came in, they looked exhausted. They had called into the clinic before us but our roads are in better conditions so we beat them there.

The vet wrapped a rope halter around the cow’s head and secured it to the post. He took out another rope and tied it to the hair in the bottom of her tail. I couldn’t help but notice the other end of the rope with a knot in it and a wad of black, cut hair as he tied her tail back so she wouldn’t swish it in his face. He commenced with some politically fueled jokes as he cleaned the cow and gave her an epidural, majority of these jokes are not appropriate to repeat. I unscrewed his coffee mug on the surgical table and helped myself.20140328-221341.jpg

He re-lit his cigarette and took a drag. “All the young vets think I can’t keep up with em’ anymore. They think I’m too old for this.” as he took a drink of coffee. Being a large animal vet automatically takes 10-15 years off your life. Our town has a population of 200, and three veterinarians. It takes character to be a vet here, rough character. We were just happy our vet was sober.

He’d been sleep deprived for about a week and was obviously only running on coffee and tobacco. We helped him get his OB sleeves on he made one-liners about the NSA and our commander and chief. The latex gloves snapped over his wrist as he took a final draw on his cigarette smeared it into the floor, he hadn’t been in a hurry.

He went arm deep into the cow, “yep, you’ve got a head back, right side, dead calf. It is really back there.” he put both arms into the cow up to his shoulders. I held a three legged cat on my lap as 15 minutes passed by of the vet calmly talking to the cow trying to tell her what to do and not do as he repositioned the calf’s head. The head back is one of the more difficult positions to fix, especially when it was that far back.


“You see, you’ve got to push that calf way back in there…..*some heavy breathing* …. and ggggeettt ahold of it’s………head……..to bring it around, relax cow, there you go.”


The 15 minutes he took may seem long, but we had worked at least 30 minutes ourselves trying to correct the problem with no success. He got the calf into the right position. “Grab me the chains, would ya Mark?” The other rancher handed him the calf pulling chains as he asked if he wanted a handle too. “Handles are for wussies.”

Within in the next couple minutes, “could you hand me a handle?”

My husband and the vet attached the chains to the rope to get ready to pull the calf. “Get me a cup of that water and the bottle of J-lube” I grabbed both and he cupped his hands and I filled them with the powdered lube. “We’ve just got to lube it up really good and we’ll be ready.” He cupped his hands again and I filled them with water. “Alright, pull.”

The vet stood back as my husband started pulling the calf. It came rather quickly, it wasn’t big. It was very dead. I could tell by the hair all over the vet’s arms that it had been dead awhile. If calves are dead in the womb more than half a day they will start to fall apart. “A rancher brought in a cow just like this one the other day. Said he took it to their vet clinic and they couldn’t get the calf in position to pull so they gave the cow a shot of antibiotics and said to take it out in pieces in a couple days. She could had died if they did that so we got him out for them. You can take that calf out back.”

My husband drug the calf off and I helped to clean up. I went to untie the cow’s tail, “Just give that slip knot a good yank” the vet instructed. I did, really hard, it didn’t budge. He came and gave it a good pull as the rope shredded his latex gloves. I  held up the other end with hair cut off the last cows tail, “Seems like this has been an issue before, I guess we just take her home with it on, how much are you going to charge for the rope?” I jest.

Some teamwork between the two of us loosened the rope which stuck despite being covered in lube. We backed the cow out and into the trailer. The other couple that was there was bringing in their second cesarean of the day, at least I wasn’t in their boat, then again, their boat had a live calf….mine didn’t. The vet was rolling another cigarette as we left for home.

Maybe our vets can seem a little rough at time, all right, most the time. But I love our vets, they are three of the most talented, skillful vets. Their solutions may not always be as couth as some vets in the more urban areas, but their attitude is just what it takes to be a successful vet in cattle country like ours. I would take one of my vets on their absolute worse day, than any other vet in the world.

We brought the cow home and paired her up with a twin we’d had that morning. She liked him. I was really hoping to have had a bottle calf for longer but I guess some things just aren’t meant to be.




4 thoughts on “A Vet Call for the Calf with its Head Back

  1. wyranchwife

    Great explanation and wonderful post! Sorry about the calf, but glad the twin got a new mom. What do you guys use to help the mom take the new one?
    I know that there are lots of products out there. We have used a few and my husband has his own special potion he whips up.

    1. glattheranch Post author

      If the cow hasn’t seen her calf or smelled it, we don’t use anything. Sometimes an older cow will know something’s not right when she doesn’t have to clean it off, but if that’s the case we rub some afterbirth on it. Otherwise we skin the hide off the dead calf and tie it to the new one, I wrote a short blog on it, it’s listed in my Post Index page under “Yellow Calf/ Grafting a Calf. I’m curious about your husband’s special potion though!!! Please share!

      1. wyranchwife

        We skin also when we can. Sometimes if she just won’t mother her own we use the stuff from the vet. But it has been known to happen that we are out here in the middle of nowhere land, and we need it now. So he has used a mixture of vanilla extract and moonshine. I get moonshine from friends and family back home in Tennessee and he will make it into a spray bottle, spray some on the calf and then spray it up the cows nose a little. He swears by it, that when you are in a pinch it does work! LOL

  2. Pingback: Standard Ranch Birthday Weekend | Calving2014

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