Thrill of an urgent calving for Julian Norton

A tense moment for Julian as he arrives in time for an urgent calving.
A tense moment for Julian as he arrives in time for an urgent calving.
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I was negotiating my way out of the car park, heading out to see a horse with a sore leg, when Liz - veterinary nurse cum receptionist cum general fixer of problems – came rushing out, clutching a piece paper.

“Change of plan,” she called “There’s a Caesar to do. Can you go there instead? The horse can wait, it didn’t sound urgent. Jack, on the other hand, is worried about his cow and wants a vet as soon as possible.”

Read Julian Norton's column first in Country Week, inside The Yorkshire Post every Saturday.

Read Julian Norton's column first in Country Week, inside The Yorkshire Post every Saturday.

“Excellent! Of course,” I called back, stopping the car, “tell him I’m on my way.” I love an urgent calving. It is a thrill that has not subsided over twenty-odd years of work in mixed practice. It was good news for Laura too – a calving was much more appealing to the camera crew than a boring old horse with a sore leg (horses, for some reason, are not nearly as good for the TV as cows and sheep).

I had not been to this farm before. It was so scrupulously clean and tidy that, as I pulled into the spotless yard, I wondered whether I was in the right place. Jack, the farmer, greeted me with enthusiasm.

“She’s in here,” he beckoned, “It’s a big one and she missed a calf last year so she’s got too fat. It’ll need a Caesar, I’m sure. Have a feel if you want, but I’ve got everything ready for you.”

I was ushered into the calving pen, where a beautiful conker-coloured limousin cow was standing politely behind a gate on an immaculate straw bed. Two feet were pointing out of her back end, upside down, indicating an obvious problem. Either the whole calf was upside down with its head back, or the calf was coming out backwards.

The latter was the most likely situation and the easiest to deal with, and fortunately it did indeed turn out to be the case. The calf was quite large and it was tight in the pelvis, but the feet were not enormous. I thought it was worth attempting a normal delivery, despite Jack’s assertion that it would need a caesarian.

It was a tense few moments for everyone. I felt the calf would come, with just some gentle traction from my calving machine but Jack was not so sure. This is always a precarious situation. We have all made the incorrect decision at this stage at some point in our careers. One too many pulls on the calving-jack and the calf is stuck or the cow is injured, or both. Despite the experienced farmer erring towards surgery, I was erring towards a natural birth, and, with reser-vations, Jack conceded that it would be worth a try. The cow was oblivious to our debate. I let her do the pushing and simply applied pressure to “take the strain” between each wave of contraction. Before long, the calf’s pelvis popped into the mother’s pelvis and the worst was over.

Half a dozen more pulls and the bull calf slid unceremoniously to the ground. Calves that come out backwards do not have the benefit of the mucous and fluid being squeezed out of their lungs as they are delivered, so we hoisted the new-born over a gate, allowing mucous to drain from his nostrils, clearing his airways. As usual, it worked a treat and he was soon sitting up in the straw, looking for a teat.

Jack and I enjoyed a few moments of mutual congratulation as we watched the mother and calf form their all-important bond.

“I read your column in The Yorkshire Post every week and I love it!” grinned Jack, “I wonder whether I’ll feature in it next week?” As I snapped a quick picture, I think he already knew the answer.

Julian stars in a new series of The Yorkshire Vet which continues this Tuesday, at 9pm on Channel 5.