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Midwife to Livestock
Heavy Labor Defined

by Nolan Maxie
Nolan Maxie
When a country-boy farmer, dude rancher or “Midnight Cowboy” wants to stay pretty busy as a do-it-yourself veterinarian, then having a small herd of cattle will do it. Acquiring perhaps eight or ten brood cows among the herd will suffice and they should bring eight or ten calves a year to make some money. Attending the cows will take much more time and attention than the heifers, steers and bulls.

Vet bills can become mighty expensive for small shoe-string operators. But learning the techniques and procedures your need aren’t all that difficult. Articles and publications are readily available for self-education. Learning about and purchasing what medical supplies and equipment are needed is pretty easy.

Often times the work is very time consuming and if you do have to hire a vet once or twice, you can learn a lot of stuff from him/her by watching and asking questions. After all, your herd is your own responsibility. If you don’t do the needed work, it doesn’t get done. The herd and your pocket-book will suffer, ‘big- time’. I have known guys to go off and leave their herd unattended for weeks at a time, perhaps never knowing they had a cow near calving. You can bet calving time is always in the spring of the year and many births will happen in the worst thunderstorm you have ever seen.

Cow and baby
TE photo

Midwife to a cow in heavy labor is one of the biggest things you’ll ever do for your herd. You may be surprised at how many times a calf gets breeched and the cow can’t deliver on her own. She seriously needs a lot of help and even then it doesn’t always turn out with best results. It is always wise to watch closely any cow approaching eminent delivery. Especially a first time delivery for a young cow. When that moment comes, if she gets into trouble you need to be close-by. It is then your assistance is so valuable to a successful delivery.

A breeched birth is when the calf is turned the wrong way, back feet first or tail first with the legs folded under. Even with the normal front feet out first, the calf’s nose should come straight out between its front legs. But, if its head is turned backwards or side ways, that can make delivery extremely difficult. The cow will help you as much as possible as her strong labor pains become real frequent. I have seen dad have to forcefully pull a calf out with a small mechanical wench. If the force is extreme and depending where he had to hook on, the cow and calf both could possibly be severely damaged and a still birth occur.

My father became one of the best all around do-it-yourself vets I have ever known. Even though time and experience are good teachers, the greatest motivator is necessity. Dad learned to do it all. In the early days professional vets were few and far between, hard to get in touch with and weeks of waiting for them to come out. I recall as late as the later 1960's, there was only one vet in the whole county. So, only in times of greatest dire need, when a situation became deadly serious; treatment highly technical and prescription drugs needed, did dad ever call a vet. And that was very seldom.

Growing up on the farm, I worked with dad and he taught me a lot of basic vet techniques. The first elementary procedure for a child to learn is the ear marking of animals. It was best done when calves and piglets were still small. Most all farms and ranches had a registered ear mark, registered with the county clerk. It involved a slit or two, or a crop in the ears; perhaps an over bit or an under bit. My family’s ear mark was an over bit the left; an under bit the right; with a crop in each ear. After doing all that, the ears were hacked up pretty badly.

The second important procedure a young farm hand learns is the marking (castration) of small pigs and calves. A very sharp knife makes that chore much easier, since a rather precise surgery is preformed to remove the testicles.

Later, usually in late autumn’s cooler weather, as young helpers matured and became stronger, they got involved in the dehorning process. With horned animals, single file and secured in a headlock chute, a big clipping device similar to large bolt cutters were used to snip off the horns. Of course, after any of these procedure, a thick medicated salve was applied to promote rapid healing and ward off flies, preventing further complications.

Today, I long ago left farm life behind, but I still preform some simple procedures, such as vaccinations, worming, dipping, shampooing and killing fleas on my dogs, cats and other small animals.

© Nolan Maxie
"Nolan Maxie"
July 1, 2010 Column

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