Ranch Snow Day: The Prolapse


We have heard it time and time again, “No farms or ranches closed today due to winter weather.” Farmers and Ranchers must brave any and all weather conditions to care for and feed livestock. But how often do we hear what happens during those days? It is very difficult to get work done and document that work at the same time, but I gave my try at this effort during a recent snow.

Weather forecast were calling for a significant snow (>3 inches is considered significant in Arkansas), so I knew it would be a long day. Reports on the radio were calling for 3 to 9+ inches of the white stuff. That is just about as accurate as saying it will get dark when the sun sets. Anyway, we have recently started calving season and my routine is to check every cow on the ranch, then start feeding everything. As I got my start driving through the pastures, everything was going well and snow started to fall and stick a little after 7. So far, so good.

When I was about half finished checking cattle, I found a prolapsed cow. (Now this may get a little graphic for some, but it’s part of real life on the ranch. And livestock reproduction and physiology are subjects of great interest for me, so I find it hard not to share what I know in a real-life situation.) This was a vaginal prolapse. Basically, due to increased pressure from a growing fetus in the uterus, increased uterine activity due to estrogen levels, and stress from cold, wet weather, expulsion of the vaginal cavity and bladder occurred. Often the stress and pain from this prolapse induces further straining, only increasing tissue expulsion if not treated. After the expulsion of these tissues, the other cows in the pasture started chasing her and mounting the cow from the rear. This tore some tissues, including the bladder. Read more on the subject from Merck Veterinary Manual.

Once I was able to corral the cow and haul her to the barn, I worked to clean the exposed tissues, and place them back in the correct position. Then, I eventually sutured the vulva to prevent expulsion of the tissues again. Because of the extent of torn tissues and the cows strain, prognosis for her recovery is slim. She will likely not be sound for breeding purposes again, so I will be making a trip to the auction with her very soon.

Situations like this are tough in ranch life. The snow was coming down at a good rate and by the time I finished the sutures I was soaked, covered in blood, and very cold, but we do what needs to be done to care for our cattle. Ranch life is not always pretty. I can tell you from experience, we farmers and ranchers must really love our livestock to go to such an extent to save an animal, only to be chased up a fence because the same cow wants to eat your lunch in the pen.

Come back tomorrow for more on my day in the snow and more encouraging news about my start to calving season.

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And you’ve got to give cattlemen like me some credit, not only do we get out there and take care of the livestock in white out snow conditions, but many of us actually know much about the science of raising cattle.

Do you have any interesting stories of prolapses or calving season in rough weather? Let me know.

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13 Comments

  1. Robin Givens on Good Morning America gave credit to Arkansas cattleman checking calves every two hours to keep them from freezing to the ground.

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  2. So how long does the birthing process typically take for the cow? And when you say you go around and check the cows- are you looking for cows that are in labor or ones that have already calved? And if you check in the morning before you feed, what happens to the cows that go into labor (i don’t know if that is the proper term or not) later that day or in the evening? Is is just sort of a gamble that you happen upon the cows that are having trouble so you can help out?

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  3. A year ago, I was checking cows when I found one that was having trouble. Too big of a calf. I managed to finally get it pulled with lariat and horse, but then she prolapsed. We put her back together, but the stress was too much and unfortunately she died a couple days later. Saved the calf though, grafted him onto another cow and he turned out nice!

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