The farm vet was on call for the weekend of new year's eve and the first of the year. Just before that weekend was finished, he got a call from one of his client's to come out right away. They needed help with a cow that was in labor and it could not wait.
When the farm vet arrived, the owner was there with the cow. He was using his truck headlights to help brighten the dim area where the cow was trying to have her calf. The farm vet examined the cow and felt for the calf and instantly knew this was not going to be one of those happy endings. The calf was very large and in a position in which it could not have been delivered on it's own. He felt further and came to the realization that the calf was already dead.
This is when the veterinarian has to have the presence of mind to do what is best to save the cow. The calf inside her is no longer the main objective and it is solely to keep the cow alive and healthy. The procedure for doing this means dissecting the calf while it is in the uterus to get it out as quickly and easily so as to reduce the stress on the mother.
I know this is hard to stomach but this is where the veterinarian and owner have to make this decision for the animal that still has a shot at life. It is not easy and it is not enjoyable but it has to be done. This procedure is called a fetotomy. The size of the cow's uterus allows this procedure to be done without injuring the mother. A cesarean section on a stressed, tired mother with a dead fetus, runs a high risk of post-operative infection and complications. Her chances of recovery are consequently lessened.
These are things that are learned with real life experience and practice, not in a text book. As we have said before, the job is not glamorous and not always rewarding. James Herriot wrote it best when he wrote, "It's a long tale of little triumphs and disasters and you've got to really like it to stick it."
The Drost Project has a nice section under 'obstetrics' and then 'fetotomy' where you can see the equipment we use and how.