‘I wonder if it will be a caesarean section?’ that was the ultimate thought that sprung to mind as I watched a veterinary practitioner examine a first-time calver that failed to follow the natural calving procedure several weeks ago, on a neighbouring farm.
The veterinary practitioner with miles of experience under his belt didn’t seem too alarmed when the unborn calf did not have a normal presentation when he handled the heifer; I on the other had experienced quite a rapid heartbeat, just like every other calving case. (Catherina Cunnane & Calving = Major Adrenaline Rush).
I was waiting for the vet to make a decision as I look frantically at the calving ropes and the calving jack which were lined up against the wall. With just minutes to make up a decision, identifying that the present moment was the correct time to intervene, there was not a question in the trace of my mind when the vet asked for hot water, a towel and the cleanest possible calving unit as he started gowning up for the calving, as he revealed “we are going to have to cut her, the calf is just too big”.
As an avid lover of Veterinary Medicine videos and being in a position to cross paths with those in the profession weekly through our hit Ireland’s vets series, I knew the outcome of this calving case could go any way. I noted how I never looked at Veterinary through rose-tinted spectacles, even during my early days when series of ‘Vets on Call’ somewhat influenced my confused five-year-old mind. I had only read segments from vets in publications, watched the tail end of a video where the cow was being stitched-up and even during my two weeks with a vet during my second-level work placement, all caesarean cases occurred either the week prior or post-placement. Readers familiar with my day-to-day commitments outside of journalism are probably intensively questioning how my own suckler herd have managed to escape my explanation. The last C-section took place on the only weekend that I decided to go away, so I was interested to see how the action of the night's case would unfold on my neighbour's farm.
At the drop of a hat, the vet started to prepare the area around us, gathered his utensils, pieces of apparatus and everything that he would require, which was followed by scrubbing down the restrained heifer. With no personal expertise in this area, I knew that my routine job filling and carrying buckets of water applied during all calving cases, including this one, even if it was out of the ordinary in my eyes. The process followed just as I had imagined including shaving away the hair and administering a local anaesthetic, all procedures to work towards the ultimate goal which was welcoming the calf into the world on what was a -3 degrees Celsius Sunday night. Making a number of incisions, using a scalpel, I watched on in amazement, giving a helping hand when required. Within minutes, the vet and his assistant delivered what appeared to be quite a large bull calf, which looked to have the potential to hit the scales at anything up to 60kg with a quick glance.
The newborn was placed on the fresh bed of straw just under my feet which automatically meat that he was placed in what the vet described as my “very cpable hands”. I checked his heartbeat and navel to ensure that all was as normal, under the careful direction and constant correspondence with the vet. Again, there was a race against time as he got to work performing the all-important post-caesarean stitch-up. Within one hour and a half, the full proceedings were wrapped up and the post-calving care kicked into gear with a number of injections administered by the vet to ensure that all was under control.
Much to my disappointment, I couldn’t take a quick snap to capture the essence of the action to publish live on my social media streams or indeed this piece for That’s Farming. A drained 0% phone vattery meant that I had also failed to check the reaction to an exclusive story that I had published on our news portal earlier that Sunday evening. I guess this is where I say as a farmer who knows a little more about the digital era than my counterparts, that I will be more prepared next time, although despite the positive outcome I am still quite weary when the words ‘caesarean section’ are mentioned. I understand that they have to occur depending on various circumstances, however and that they are conducted by the best experts in this field.
It took quite some time for me to witness a bovine caesarean section in the flesh, some would argue and that is the beauty of the calving season. It is only when the calving gown, scalpel and the stitching of the womb, muscle and layers are all there in front of your own two eyes that you truly attain an understanding of the procedure, a procedure that may look graphic for the fainted-hearted that has the ability to assist with the emergence of new life into the world.