Caesarean in a Cow
David A. Rustebakke, DVM
Dr. Rustebakke is a long time large animal veterinarian, and owner of Rustebakke Veterinary Service
The call came in about 1:30 PM on a cold winter day; a cow was having problems giving birth. She was located in a corral in the Grand Ronde Canyon about 40 miles away; the road to the ranch was steep and snow packed; there was no way to haul her to the clinic. My assistant Sandra and I drove in to give her a hand. Chains on the 4 wheel drive truck were required!
What I enjoy most about Veterinary Medicine is the challenge; we are often asked to do things that seem difficult or impossible. However I have learned that difficult tasks are just a series of simple tasks put together in a logical sequence, one simple step at a time.
This video illustrates how we make do in the field. We have an uncooperative patient, and the operating room is primitive. Human surgeons seldom need to do it this way. We start out with a rope and halter with the cow tied to a fence as we don't want her going down in the squeeze chute. She fought too much to get much done, however we were able to tell the calf was still alive, but it was in a position that was going to be very difficult to correct. The chances for survival for the calf was better if we took her to surgery.
We put her in the squeeze chute to shave and inject the incision site with local anesthetic; then moved her to an open sided chute with a head catch to do the surgery. She had an epidural nerve block to control her straining and keep her from swishing her tail into the incision.
Although we do not have a sterile operating room available, we take great pains to be as sterile as possible; she was shaved and scrubbed with surgical soap and rinsed with alcohol; we use sterile instruments and sterile surgical gloves. We make every attempt to avoid contamination.
The video illustrates how we do surgery in the field. Cows are tough, and we seldom have complications. We always tell the cow to take it easy for 2-3 months and avoid any heavy lifting; I have yet to have one follow my advice. The rancher typically puts them in a smaller corral for a week or two, then they go back with the herd. Skin sutures are typically removed in 2-3 weeks, by the time the hair grows back there is no visible scar.
As soon as the calf is out, the rancher (Dennis) clears the airway and makes sure it is doing OK. After the surgery the cow is milked, and the calf is stomach tubed with fresh warm colostrum; they are typically up and ready to nurse within an hour after birth.
I have always admired these hard working men and women who ranch and raise cattle; it is not only a job, it is a way of life for them. With the cold weather we have been having, Dennis and other ranching families are on duty 24 hours a day 7 days a week till the calves are on the ground. Once the calves are dried off and get a belly full of warm milk, most do well in spite of the weather. Many of the calves get to live in the warm house or in the warm cab of a pickup for a few hours after birth till they get a warm meal and get dried off!
Thank you to my assistant Sandra Whittaker, who did double duty as surgical assistant and videographer; she tried to hand me stuff while remaining sterile with one hand and running the camera with the other; a master at multi tasking! She also edited the video. And thank you to Dennis Moss for allowing us to video his cow, and Bill Ruchert for his valuable assistance!
Dr. David A. Rustebakke
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