It’s 3am and we’re down to our last few calves of the season.

I turn over, look at the phone and see that a heifer I have in the shed seems to be in bother. The wind is howling at gale force and rain is hammering down. I really don’t want to get out of my warm bed, but needs must.

I reach the shed and now fully witness the horror before me. The calf’s head and one leg is out, but there’s no sign of the other leg. I instantly know this is going to be a long night. In this situation, you need to act fast as both the cow and calf are in danger. The calf could suffocate and the cow could suffer severe internal damage.

I make a feeble attempt to grab the other leg but it’s so far in, it leaves no room to turn. At this moment, I know: I need help. I can’t call the father – he’s been through enough late-night calving dramas to last a lifetime. The wife is sick inside. I have to call the vet.

Heifer’s contractions

I hate having to call the vet in the middle of the night – this is an intense time of year for them, too – but I have no choice. Luckily, I got him on the phone after the second try. He had just gone back to his bed from another call out. I feel bad, but I know I won’t be able to do this without him.

The vet arrives fairly quickly and it’s straight into action. In order to bring the calf out safely, we first need to find a way to push it back in to provide us a chance to reach the second leg.

In this situation, the heifer’s contractions are pushing out, but we need to push in. This isn’t easy work – it takes a little help from gravity and the combined strength of myself and the vet to push down. Pushing the calf back in takes precious time, because it is a large calf and the heifer has little room for us to work with. At one point, we fear the worst: we think the calf is dead. But then I see him blinking his eyes; he was basically letting me know: ‘Keep going boss; I can make it.’

The vet arrives fairly quickly and it’s straight into action. In order to bring the calf out safely, we first need to find a way to push it back in to provide us a chance to reach the second leg

After what feels like an age, we get the calf back into the womb. Now for the next hard part: we need to get both legs pointing forward, along with the head. This is where you see vet mastery in action. Using nothing but touch and instinct, the vet puts a small rope into the cow and loops it around the legs, while at the same time keeping the head in the right position.

The general public are regularly in awe of heart surgeons and nuclear scientists, but at this moment, I am in awe of my vet. It’s now 4.30am, he’s been out all night on other calls, and here he is – delicately pulling off an extremely difficult manoeuvre.

Anyways, back to the action – we have everything in place. The calf is now ready to come out. We turn to the calf jack and start to slowly jack the calf out. At this point, it’s a 50/50 chance that the calf will come out alive. Sure enough, though, out he pops – a lovely Limousine bull. He has a little fluid in lungs, but is otherwise looking ok. The heifer is a bit shook at first (who wouldn’t be?), but after a few hours, she gets back to her feet. All is well.

I turn to my vet and he has a smile on his face. We both know we just saved two lives, and it feels good. We contemplate: in 10 or 15 years’ time, will there be fools like us doing this type of work? I hope so, but farming veterinary is a vocation which already seems in short supply.


A family farm can’t exist without the support from vets, feed merchants, hardware stores, machinery specialists, lorry drivers, contractors, farm advisors, the Government, skilled workers and more. If you sat down and counted all the people helping to support your farm, you wouldn’t be far off a village. We should never forget that or undervalue how critical they are, and their contribution to Irish agriculture.

Most importantly, always be grateful they are there for us when we need them the most.

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