I knew from previous experience that this was a very friendly town, having spent many a New Year in the pubs around the square. In fact, having enjoyed New Years’ Eve celebrations in several other North Yorkshire towns, I can confirm that Knaresborough is certainly the friendliest of them all.
At first, I couldn’t understand the excitement. Surely the whole town could not have been so delighted that the vet had arrived? I greeted the anxious farmer, saying: “I can’t believe it – I’ve only just arrived and the whole town is clapping!”
“Oh, I think it’s a ‘clap for the NHS’ event,” he replied, at which point I remembered it was the celebration of 72 years of the Health Service. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re here because we’re really worried.”
The cow in question was giving birth, but no proper progress had been made. Confusingly, there appeared to be some afterbirth hanging from her vulva beside an intact water bag.
“I wonder if she might have had one calf already,” queried the farmer, “she usually has twins, this old girl, but we’ve looked everywhere around the field and can’t find a calf.”
“Well don’t worry,” I reassured. “I’ll be able to tell you exactly what is going on shortly. Can we get her in a crush?”
I cleaned my arms and applied lubricant as usual, but what I felt upon starting my examination was most unusual and not something I can recall ever having felt inside a cow before. There was no head, but there were some feet, upside down.
Each foot was attached to a hock, which meant they were back feet. A calf coming backwards is a common cause of difficulty. But as I explored further, I found not two, but four back feet!
With difficulty, I could pull all four of them into view, but it wasn’t easy to identify which made a pair. It looked like a party was going on in there! Each foot was approximately the same size and all were exactly the same conker colour, so at first attempt it was impossible to match them up. In lambs, it’s possible to feel far enough inside to work out which leg goes with which, but in this case, there was no space for me to reach past the jumble of feet.
I would have to make an educated guess. I put my yellow calving rope on the first leg and my green rope on another. I pulled hard, but nothing budged, leading me to conclude that yellow and green ropes were not attached to the same calf. I tried again with another rope – this time blue. Would the yellow and blue combo work?
I tried to calculate the statistics of guessing the correct combination. I thought this must definitely be right, but still no joy. For attempt number three, I attached my red rope to the fourth leg and pulled along with the yellow. It was third time lucky. After pushing the blue and green roped legs back in, the first calf, with red and yellow ropes on its legs, slid out with relative ease.
For a twin, it was large and I relaxed a bit, because I knew that the hardest part was done. Another pull and calf number two, with blue and green ropes, emerged into the world, landing next to its twin.
Everyone was relieved, because this had been a tense and challenging calving.
“Thank you very much. Your efforts have made an old farmer very pleased,” were the parting words of thanks. He was so grateful, I half expected he was going to start clapping.