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  • Writer's pictureThe Show Circuit

Here's Something You Don't See Everyday.... Or Want To

From the Davidson Leader (Saskatchewan)

DAVIDSON—Guinness World Records and Ripley’s Believe It or Not descended on Davidson last Monday, March 25 to verify the birth of a three-headed calf. The tricephalic Red Angus cross calf was born at about 2 a.m. on Gordon Willner’s farm west of Davidson. It weighed 113 pounds. It had been just another day on the farm during calving season before the epic event took place.

The cow was expected to calve anytime, so she was being monitored. As her time approached, it became apparent the birth was not progressing as it should. Concerned, Willner put his arm inside the cow and felt one and then a second head. Assuming it was a set of twins, he called for assistance. Dr. Olaf Lipro, a large animal veterinary medicine resident at the University of Saskatchewan, answered the call for help. He arrived at the farm and performed an examination, confirming there were indeed two heads. As the birth failed to progress, he decided to perform an emergency cesarean section.

This was Lipro’s first emergency C-section on a cow. He said he had performed one about three weeks ago on a pug that was unable to deliver her pug/Rottweiler pups.

“That went fairly well, so I thought getting these twins out of Gord’s cow should be a piece of cake,” Lipro said.

The cow was given a local anesthetic and then Lipro performed the procedure as outlined in his textbook. As he pulled one hind leg out, he grabbed the second hind leg and attached it to a calving chain and gave a mighty tug. The calf wouldn’t budge. He said he was surprised with how difficult it was to pull the calf out. The pug/Rottweiler pups came out easily, he noted. With time and the cow’s life in the balance, they had to work quickly in order to get the calf out safely.

Lipro pulled on the chains with all his might. Finally the calf came free. As he pulled it out of the uterus, he was shocked to discover what he thought was the first calf of a set of twins was in fact a three-headed calf.

“I was gob smacked, absolutely gob smacked,” Lipro said.

He said he’s heard of two-headed calves being born, but never a three-headed calf. He said his first instinct was to take out his iPhone and post it on social media. Then he remembered that he had a job to do. He checked the calf’s airways—all three of them —to make sure the calf could breathe. One of the heads, the middle one, was struggling. Lipro said he had to clear the amniotic fluid from its nostrils. Some people use a piece of straw, but Lipro said he was taught a new method. He said he uses the straw from a Tim Hortons Iced Capp, inserts it into a nostril and sucks out the offending fluid. He said this is a technique other cattle producers may want to use in their cow-calf operations. He said a straw from a Twisted Sisters milkshake would also do in a pinch. He cautioned farmers from relying on this, however, because Twisted Sisters is still closed for the season.

After he had the calf breathing, he turned his attention to the cow. He cleaned her wound and stitched her up. The calf was lying on the ground and having difficulty sucking a bottle so Lipro quickly tubed colostrum in through its left head.

“Then I thought, I might never get another chance to do this, so I tubed the right head too just to see if I could.”

The calf started sucking on its own, but had to be bottle fed for the first 48 hours as it struggled to its feet. By day three, it was able to stand. Nursing proved to be a challenge as all three heads butted with one another as they attempted to latch on.

Lipro said prognosis for the calf isn’t good. Two-headed calves rarely survive more than a few days, and a three-headed calf…Lipro said, “Only time will tell.” This could be the first three-headed calf in history, although mention was made of one being born in 1893 in Illinois.

In the Jan. 13, 1893 edition of the Mattoon Gazette, out of Mattoon, Coles County, Illinois, the following report was published: “As we go to press a Lafayette farmer reports a three-headed calf born in the neighbourhood just southeast and a little north of the Monroe school house. He requests concealment of his name that the guilty party may be brought to justice.”…whatever that means.

Lipro said he did post a photo on Instagram, which is how Guinness World Records and Ripley’s ended up swooping into Davidson. He expressed regret for bringing all this attention to the Willner farm. “I let my ego get the better of me,” Lipro said. “As soon as I saw it was a tricephalic calf, I began thinking about how I could use this as my thesis topic when I do my PhD under Dr. Newt Scamander at vet med’s College of Large and Unusual Animals.”

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