Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hard Decisions, Hard to Stomach

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.

7 comments:

  1. Those times are hard to come upon, but we have to soak in those occasions when we save so many lives too. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Thanks for posting. I don't think any of the decisions as owners of our cattle or horses are any easier at times for this female rancher then the ones you have to face with your clients. I remember the hardest decision for our vet fifteen years ago when my mother found one of horses with a broken leg in the pasture above the hock. I told Mom on the phone I would check with Lynn to see if she wanted to come. I explained the situation to her. I'm not sure at eight years she really understood what had happened to her horse. She looked at Tony and asked, 'If they can put a man on the moon why can't A&M fix my horse?' Inside it destroyed Tony. He had known me as a teenager and had watched Lynn grow from the time she was born. She was angry, mad, and devastated all wrapped up in one explosive reaction of tears. She now tells me she would never have forgiven me if she could not have said goodbye to her horse. The hardest part for me was to not be able to lessen her pain, but tell her over and over again I understood for at thirteen I lost my first horse. About ten years later Lynn thanked Tony for his kindness he showed her on that day. Our vets do amazing things for us compared to the 41 years ago when I took my first riding lesson. My life since then has been surrounded by the love and compassion of the many vet's wonderful work they do for us. Without our vet's knowledge and patience to help in times of need our cattle and horses would indeed not have the quality of life they enjoy.

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  3. Thanks for the interesting post. It illustrates how those involved with cattle care about the health and well being of their animals.

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  4. Thanks for the feedback from everyone!

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  5. I (The Athens Goatfarmer's wife!)actually had to assist a vet doing this for one of our beef cows, many years ago. Definitely not pleasant, but the only way to hope to save the cow. Its something I've never forgotten, I'll tell you that!

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  6. Taken out of context, the whole thing does sound disgusting. But as someone else who performs them, I can also attest to it being an instance of doing what's best for the cow. I think the important fact here is that we make sure the calf is dead before doing the procedure. Thank goodness cows are tough!

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  7. I am personally amazed at how animals respond to pain compared to humans. It's just a thought, and I am thankful that this cow was not in pain, due to the procedure. I love working with cattle, and livestock. May Jesus bless you all.

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