Monday, April 8, 2013

Heather Smith Thomas — Notes from Sky Range Ranch: Giving CPR to a Newborn Calf — Part Two: Artificial Respiration and Starting the Heart

The first calf my husband and I gave artificial respiration to was a big bull calf we pulled from a Hereford heifer named Beauty Spot, in 1974. The weather was warm that day, so we gently herded her into a calving pen, nicely bedded with straw, and didn’t put her in the barn. The calf’s feet appeared, but the heifer made no further progress in her labor, so we helped her, with obstetrical chains around the calf’s front legs. It took us an hour to pull him, little by little, pulling as she strained and resting when she rested. At last his head was free, and the rest of him came easier. But after a bit of wiggling as his shoulders and chest came through the birth canal, the calf went limp.

The proper way to pull a calf is to pull when the cow strains and
while she rests. Then there is less risk of injuring her or the calf.

By the time we got him delivered, he seemed dead. His nose was blue. We wiggled and shook him and stuck a piece of straw up his nose, but there was no response. His eyes were glassy, with no blink reflex when touched. But when I felt his rib cage, his heart was still beating. So I immediately blew air into one nostril, holding the other one shut. The air burbled into his lungs and out again. Still no response. So I started rhythmically blowing air into one nostril while Lynn massaged the calf and moved its legs, which helps stimulate circulation.

Lynn kept lifting the calf’s chest up and down and checking the heartbeat while I kept blowing air. The calf remained limp, but the heart still beat, so we couldn’t give up.

After 30 minutes of continuous effort, the calf’s nose and mouth were turning pink instead of blue, and he started breathing on his own. He was still unconscious, however, so we kept rubbing him. After another 15 minutes he “woke up.” First his eyes began to water and lost their dead look. His legs began to twitch. Then he tried to raise his head and look around. He couldn’t get up for a while, and his tired mama was still lying in the straw, so we just pulled him over toward her udder, and he accomplished his first nursing lying down. His head and tongue were swollen from the pressure of being so long in the birth canal, so it was a little hard for him to nurse at first, but after a few hours he was fine.

We didn't think about taking a photo of Beauty Spot and her big calf nursing
while they were both lying down, but here's a similar situation a few years later
when both the mama and new baby were tired after a hard birth.This big clumsy
calf couldn't stand up yet — and we accomplished the first nursing with him
and his mama lying in the straw in the calving barn.

If you ever have to start a calf breathing, here are a few tips. First, clear the airways. Roll him onto his breastbone in an upright position with chin resting on the ground and nose as low as possible; this position allows fluid to drain from his nostrils. If necessary, use your fingers to strip fluid from his mouth and nose in a suctionlike action, like squeezing a tube of toothpaste, or use a suction bulb. Even a turkey baster bulb works for this.

Then lay the calf on his side with head and neck extended, so the air will go into his windpipe and not his esophagus and stomach when you blow air into his nostril. This is similar to giving CPR to a person; you tilt the head back so the esophagus is closed off and the airway is open. It’s harder to do this in a calf, but if you can extend the head upward as you breathe into the nostril, this tends to close the throat. The air will follow the path of least resistance, and you don’t want it going into the stomach.

If the calf doesn't start to breathe and won't respond to a piece of
straw tickling his nose, lay him on his side with head and neck
extended before you start breathing into his nostril.

Some veterinarians suggest inserting a small-diameter tube into the nostril and windpipe to blow on (this is the most effective way to make sure you are blowing into the airway and not into the stomach), but if you don’t have one, or haven’t ever used a tube in a calf, you can simply blow into the calf’s nostril. Cover one nostril tightly with your hand, holding his mouth shut (to prevent air escaping), and gently blow a full breath into the other nostril, forcing air into the windpipe and lungs. Don’t blow rapidly or forcefully or you might rupture a lung. Blow until you see the chest rise. Then let the air come back out. Blow in another breath until the chest rises again. Continue filling the lungs and letting them empty, until he starts breathing on his own. Usually, once the body tissues become less starved for oxygen, the heart rate will rise, and the calf will regain consciousness and start to breathe.

If the calf has no heartbeat but hasn’t gone too long without oxygen, you may be able to revive him. A few years ago our son Michael and his wife pulled a big bull calf that they knew was alive when they started pulling (the feet jerked when they attached the chains). By the time the calf was delivered, however, it was limp, with eyes glazed, and no heartbeat — technically dead.

Frustrated and desperate, because he knew the calf was alive just moments earlier, Michael slammed his fist onto its rib cage, directly over the heart, and it started beating again. His wife immediately began blowing into the calf’s nostril, and Michael rhythmically pushed on the rib cage to stimulate the heart, which soon started beating strongly on its own. After many minutes of artificial respiration, the calf regained consciousness. It took about 12 hours for that calf to recover enough to nurse its mother, and it was fed colostrum by tube in the interim, but the recovery was complete — with no ill effects from being “brought back to life.”

Heather Smith Thomas raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising HorsesStorey's Guide to Training HorsesStable SmartsThe Horse Conformation HandbookYour CalfGetting Started with Beef and Dairy CattleStorey's Guide to Raising Beef CattleEssential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook.

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