I don't watch a lot of television, but when I do it's usually something quasi educational. Maybe you could even call it virtually real programming. But anyways, I was watching something the other day featuring Larry the Cable Guy (I think that's his legal name) on his trek throughout Wisconsin's dairy land.
Since dairy cows are more than a little interesting to me, I took notice of what was going on. The program showed Larry in various capacities in the large working dairy farm as cow breeder, milker, calf raiser and finally bovine obstetrician. This type of television is successful, I think, because many people still hold farmers in high esteem and also really dig animals.
As I was watching, my wife caught the part where Larry the Cow Obstetrician assisted in the delivery of a calf. Once the calf was on the ground, the farmer instructed Larry to stick a piece of straw in the calf's nostril. Larry obliged and then proceeded to pass out celebratory cigars.
My wife then asked me, "Why did they stick a piece of straw in that calf's nose?" It was then that I realized that Larry the Bovine Midwife could have spent an entire show in that maternity pen and never run out of things to talk about or jokes to tell. They pulled the calf, but blew off most of the good stuff.
Don't get me wrong; this isn't a criticism. I'm no television producer but I have delivered my share of calves. As Paul Harvey would have said, here is the rest of the story. After calf is born, either assisted or unassisted by the farmer, its first job in life is to expand its lungs. In the womb, the calf's lungs are totally collapsed. Once it is born, the calf has to take a great big breath in order to fill the lungs with air. If successful, the lungs will pick up where the umbilical cord left off.
If the calf doesn't rapidly expand its lungs and start the process of oxygen transfer, a lot of bad things can happen. And the calf can't really count on mama for help as mama is usually pretty worn out and flat on her side after delivery. Fortunately, most times the calf instinctively does its job.
During difficult deliveries, though, the calf may be a little sluggish once it's on the ground. I have a couple of tools in my arsenal to get the calf started breathing in such cases. First, as Larry the Calf Deliverer demonstrated, we can stick a piece of straw up the calf's nostril. If straw isn't available, a hemostat or even a finger will suffice. The calf's reaction is to pull back, shake its head and take a big, fat gulp of air – mission accomplished – hopefully. If you can imagine somebody shoving a stiff piece of straw up your snout you'll understand why it's effective.
In the unlikely event that the straw up the snout trick is unsuccessful, we can try something a little more advanced. I learned this trick in veterinary school from an anesthesiologist who had some training in acupuncture. Apparently there is an acupressure point between the nostrils that, when you stick a needle in it, it stimulates the animal to take a big breath. I don't know if it's an acupressure point or not, but it usually makes the calf pretty mad and that stimulates a breath.
And if that still doesn't work, there is a trick that the old timers know well. Pick the calf up from its hind legs and let it hang upside down for a few seconds. As a child, I can remember one time when my dad and uncle helped deliver a calf. Once the calf was out, they grabbed it by the hind legs, picked it up and spun it around the pen like it was on an amusement ride. The theory was to remove the fluid from its lungs by forcing it out in the spin cycle. It's the same principle as hanging the calf upside down, only more aggressive.
Well, I'm pretty sure that since the lungs of the newborn calf are totally collapsed, there is no fluid in them. But a quick inversion therapy does seem to stimulate some breathing. Once the calf takes a couple of big gulps of air, I like to set them up on their breastbone and pull their legs behind them so they lay like a frog. This position makes it easier for them to finish expanding their lungs. By this time, mama is about ready to get up and lick the calf off, which further stimulates the calf.
On second thought, maybe I'll concede that assisting newborn calves probably wouldn't make for good television. I guess Larry the Cable Guy should stick to what he does best and I'll keep delivering calves.