Mr Komu and his wife were away on holiday when John, their farm manager, called me to their farm on Kiambu Road, Nairobi, the other day.
“Daisy has a very stubborn calf that has refused to be born. The cow has been pushing for some time but the calf won’t come out,” John told me.
Daisy was one of Komu’s best milking cows that had given 35 litres a day in the last calving. On the market, the cow could have easily fetched Sh200,000.
I recalled my wife, Dr Mwikali, who is also a vet, had inseminated the cow nine months before. She was known among farmers in the area as “The Best Bull in Town” because for some reason, most of her inseminations resulted in heifer calves.”
Once on the farm, I asked John to supply four workers, who were to help me resolve the difficult calving. They were to spend with me two to three hours, I informed him.
“Doctor, it is mid-day and the workers break for lunch at 1pm,” John protested. I apologised and told him time was of essence for us to save Daisy and her “stubborn calf”.
I also jokingly reminded him Daisy was the workers’ employer.
I quickly cleaned my hands and kitted in my dungarees, hand gloves and arm-length gloves as the workers, now my medical team, restrained Daisy in the treatment box.
One worker secured the cow’s head while the other held the tail. John and another worker, Mumo, would be my medical assistants.
I cleaned and disinfected my gloved hands. I then washed and disinfected the cow’s perineal area where there was no sign of the foetus.
This is a process called surgical asepsis, which is meant to prevent introduction of infection into the animal’s reproductive tract in assisted births.
Difficult calving in cattle, medically called dystocia, arises when the calf fails to smoothly pass through the birth canal.
It is mainly caused by poor positioning of the foetus or the calf being larger than the mother’s birth canal.
Farmers should look out for these signs.
The cow is due for calving, the vulva is enlarged, and it pushing but the calf is not coming out completely, or only the head, legs (one of both) front or hind are coming out but there is no further progress despite continued pushing (labour).
Sometimes the calf’s tail only protrudes from the vulva, foetal fluids pour out but no other progress for at least 30 minutes yet the cow pushes.
Care must be taken when assisting delivery, so as not to injure the calf or the mother. In some cases, the calf may be sacrificed to save the mother.
The doctor must always examine the cow and the calf thoroughly to determine the best method of relieving dystocia.
I first injected Daisy with antibiotics and pain killers. I then inserted my hand into the uterus.
At the brim of the pelvis, I touched the muzzle of the calf. I gently held the lower jaw and directed the muzzle into the pelvic canal.
The head entered into the canal but could only go as far as the forehead just above the eyes. Daisy’s calf was alive but too big for the mother’s birth canal.
The only way to get the calf out was to do a Caesarean Section (CS).
Having determined the cause of the dystocia and that the calf was alive, I knew I had to move very quickly to extract the foetus from the uterus alive.
I briefed my team on the operation we were to carry out and they were shocked.
They had never witnessed a surgical operation being done on a cow. “Are we going to be splashed with blood?” Mumo asked.
I assured the team there would be no uncontrolled bleeding. I then briefed my two assistants on the kind of surgical tasks they would help me do.
I calmed Daisy with a sedative injection and she went into a quiet stupor, which still though left her standing as desired.
I then shaved a large triangular area on the left side of the abdomen next to the last rib.
I cleaned and disinfected the shaved surgical site. Thereafter, I blocked pain in the hind part of the cow from the hip with an injection into the spinal cord to prevent bleeding along the incision line at the surgical site.
I then quickly cut through the body wall with a sterile surgical blade, brought out the uterus and located one of the front hooves of the foetus.
With Mumo holding the uterus out of the body pointing to the ground, I cut through the uterus wall, making a hole large enough for me to pull the calf out.
Foetal fluids came pouring out of the uterus to the ground in a storm.
Together with John, I pulled out the calf from the uterus using sterile ropes. I cut off the umbilical cord and placed the calf on a clean bed of straw.
I then removed the membranes from the calf’s nose, held it upside down while shaking it vigorously to drain fluid from the airways and to stimulate the lungs to start breathing.
The calf gasped, cried out and started breathing. Everyone shouted in joy, “We made it!”
But the surgical journey was far from over. Mumo was still holding the uterus but it was moving on its own and pulling back into the abdomen.
This is called involution when the uterus starts contracting back to its original size once the foetus is out.
The surgeon has to compete with the organ’s movements to remove the remainder of the foetal fluids and the placenta, and close the surgical hole.
After the CS, a cow should be kept in a clean dry place and separated from others for 14 days to avoid injury and contamination of the wound.
Usually, the surgeon removes the skin stitches within 10-14 days.
The next insemination should be done not earlier than 63 days from the date of the CS if healing occurred without any infection – otherwise, the first insemination is done when a vet doctor confirms healing has fully occurred.
Under normal delivery, insemination is done 42 days after delivery. Daisy recovered fully uneventfully later to the delight of Mr Komu and his wife.
Dorcas Mbalanya: We have a farm hosting 54 pigs but we are working on importing semen, having an AI centre and a training centre for farmers. Please advise on the kind of cover that is provided and the insurance companies that we can deal with.
You may check the cover with APA, Heritage and CIC insurance firms.
Maxwell: Thank you for coming on board. I was enlightened by the milk fever article. In Kakamega, we still have less vets and I have to rely on people who don’t have much knowledge about dairy farming.
Thank you for reading and all the best in your farming.
Francis: I am from Busia and I have three dogs and one has been sick since January 6. It started with whitish/yellowish discharge from eyes and was treated with antibiotics and de-wormer but it did not improve. It now has shallow breathing, sneezes and shivers that I thought it would die but it hasn’t. Please help.
What you describe is canine distemper, a disease caused by a virus and has no cure. Dogs that recover from the disease may not thrive and die later due to other infections caused by weakened immunity. Canine distemper is prevented by initial vaccinations of puppies at nine weeks and annual booster vaccinations of adult dogs with the canine distemper vaccine.