Soapweed's Ranch Ramblings
The writings of a Nebraska Sandhills cattle rancher!

Calf Conundrum
March 26, 2003

One day in early May several years ago, I was out in a pickup caking the pairs and admiring how well the young calves were doing. Then I noticed a calf that was stretched out flat looking quite lifeless. Sometimes they appear this way, and then an ear twitches and they sit up to take notice of the world. Unfortunately this calf was very sick and knocking on death's doorstep.

He was a couple months old and probably weighed over 200 pounds. I tied a rope onto his hind legs and drug him over to the upper edge of a bull-hole with the pickup. Then I backed the pickup into the bull wallow and slid the calf into the back. When I got to the house, I drug the sick little critter into a better "going to town" pickup and headed for the veterinarian clinic.

At the time a husband-wife team of veterinarians had a practice in a nearby town. They were both very qualified and great people, but sometimes they didn't always see things the same way. In fact once in a while their differences in methods and diagnosis discussions would become quite heated. On one of these occasions, I jokingly told them that the reason I always came to them with bovine health problems was because I didn't have to travel very far to get a second opinion.

The male member of the firm was just getting back from the country and was cleaning and putting equipment away. The lady was helping me with the sick calf. She determined that the calf either had purple gut or stomach ulcers, and decided to give it some C&D anti-toxin through the jugular vein. As she administered the medicine the calf started to die on the spot. Just then her husband walked by, and decided the best course of action was to give it some epinephrine. He hurriedly found some and disconnected the anti-toxin before administering the epinephrine through the same tube into the jugular vein. Then the calf really did die. He went through the death gyrations, kicked his last several times, his eyes glazed over and the breathing stopped. We all looked at each other and said, "Well, we tried."

We all sat on the edge of the pickup, as the dead calf was still in the back. I told them to go ahead and post it the next day so we would know for sure what it died from. Then I mentioned that the calf's mother was a nice young cow so I would just skin out the dead calf and use the hide to graft another calf onto the mother. The calf had been dead for a few minutes before I started skinning. My method is to skin real low on the legs and take quite a bit of hide. Then slits can be cut in the leg flaps to put the alive calf's legs into. No twine is needed by using this method. I started my cut clear down low on a hind leg and cut clear up to the tail-head. No sooner was that done than the doggoned "dead" calf came back to life. He sat up, his eyes got bright, and he started breathing again. It plumb dumb-founded all three of us. Now what to do?

The man doctor said that coincidentally just that day some staples and a staple-gun had arrived in the mail. It was from a veterinary supply store that wanted these folks to try out this new product. What better place to try it than on this two-and-a-half-foot fresh-cut slit. He first administered some sulfa powder into the open area, and then we proceded to staple up the wound. Things were looking good and the calf seemed interested in all that was happening. When the job was completed, I suggested that these folks keep the calf to make sure that he had a better chance for survival. We placed the little guy in a warm room for the night, and I drove on back home.

The next morning during breakfast, the phone rang. It was the good doctor, and he reported bad news. The calf had died. I had left town at about six o'clock the evening before, and these folks had checked in on him at ten. Everything was okay at that time. By morning though, the poor little guy was a goner. I decided to try the graft deal without a hide to work with.

This sure would have been a much better story if the calf had survived to a ripe old age!






Copyright © 2005 Steve Moreland
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