The cow was prepped and ready for a Caesarean when I arrived. My effervescent colleague Candela had attempted to deliver the calf but felt it was too big to be delivered naturally. She’d called for my help at half past eleven – not especially late, although I was already asleep, because one half of the family had set the alarms for 5am to get to a rowing regatta. It was the Northern sprint championships and Jack, my eldest son, fancied his chances.
I had already offered my advice. “Be brave”. Rowing sprints need not just strength, power and technique, but also steely determination to hang on as the lactic acid burns. Since I was on duty again, I couldn’t go along to watch, and would have to rely on text updates during the course of racing.
So, I abandoned my early night and headed out to help.
“It’s all ready to go,” she reported, “But please, would you like to feel first. I think it’s big, the head is back and I can’t get it out. But you might be able to.”
I was happy to investigate, although I didn’t want to undermine her initial assessment.
The calf was big, as she had said, and its head back – a challenging calving if ever there was. But my years of experience told me it was worth a try. A natural birth is always preferable for the cow, quicker for the tired vet and cheaper for the cash-strapped farmer.
Eventually, drawing on all the techniques I have acquired over the years, I managed to get the calf’s head up and into the mother’s pelvis. First part sorted. Now we just needed to get it out.
The cow was, by now, very cross. She was not appreciating our help. We decided to put her in the cattle crush. This is not always the best thing to do for a calving, but under the circumstances, it was the safest option. In the darkness of the night, everything seemed more difficult and it took some persuasion, but eventually and reluctantly she went in.
Working together, with Candela operating the calving jack and me guiding the head into position, we managed to deliver the huge calf.
We congratulated ourselves as we made it comfortable in the calving pen. Everything had gone well and it looked as if we would soon be heading home.
After tidying up our equipment, we opened the cattle crush to let the cow, still very cross, out to join her baby. It was a simple plan – we opened the front gate and if she walked out and turned left into the calving pen where her calf was waiting all would be good.
Unfortunately, she had other plans, not involving finding her calf. She burst out of the crush, turned right and charged past Candela’s car, past my car, past my vulnerable wing mirror and away into the pitch-black yard, with its gate open to the road.
Suddenly, everything was not so simple. The calf was out of the cow, but the cow would very soon be out of the farmyard.
Everyone started running, shouting and panicking. More by luck than judgment, she hung a left and headed to a corner of the yard where she was penned in by tractors and a combine harvester. Fearing for my wing mirrors, should she make a dash back in my direction, I decided that my time on the farm was now done and made my excuses.
As I reversed out, the two farmers managed to corral the annoyed cow safely into the pen and my wing mirrors were out of danger.
The other good news for the weekend? Exactly 12 hours later, Jack became the North of England under-17 single sculls sprint champion.
The Yorkshire Vet continues on Channel 5 this Tuesday at 8pm.