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Smallest Calf Born Alive Making Progress at Mississippi State College of Vet Medicine

By Slim Smith for The Dispatch



A four-month-old Holstein calf gives a curious sniff to Lil Bill, believed to be the world's smallest bull when born at 7 pounds, 14 ounces, as Mississippi State College of Veterinary Medicine students Nick Smith and Beatriz Veley-Irizarry keep a careful eye on them. Lil Bill is two months older than his pasture mate, who towers over him. While an average calf weighs 500 pounds, Lil Bill weighs just 34 pounds. Photo by: Tom Thompson, MSU College of Veterinary Medicine

It's been about six months since the bull known as "Lil Bill" arrived at Mississippi State's College of Veterinary Medicine as quite possibly the smallest calf ever born alive. 

With a birth weight of just 7 pounds, 14 ounces -- smaller than the average human baby and 1/8th the weight of a normal calf -- nobody knows quite what to make of him. That's true for the team of MSU veterinarians and vet school students who have cared for the tiny bull since his arrival. It might be even true for Lil Bill, himself. 


"He's made a lot of progress," said Dr. Gretchen Grissett, the College's bovine expert and primary veterinarian in charge of Lil Bill's care. "He's weaned now. He's learned to moo, although he doesn't moo a lot. He interacts with the other calves. (Lil Bill) doesn't know what to make of the other calves. They don't know what to make of Lil Bill. 


"He runs around and loves to chase a ball, which I've never seen a calf do," she added. "I wonder if he thinks he's a dog sometimes." 


That wouldn't be too great a leap. Like other calves his age, Lil Bill has roughly quadrupled his birth weight. But at 34 pounds, he's still a tiny version of a normal calf, which, Grissett said, weighs about 500 pounds at six months. "I don't he'll ever be much bigger than a mid-to-large-size dog," Grissett said. "He barely comes up to my knee." 


Since his arrival, Lil Bill has been a sensation. Each update posted in the CVM's website draws thousands of views within a few hours. He's turned out to be a good source of publicity for the vet school. But his value goes far beyond that. 


"I think all of us have learned from working with him," Grissett said. "He still has digestive issues and has from the start and working with him, I think I've developed a better understanding of that." 


Fourth-year vet student Acacia Cooper is one of many vet students who've helped provide care for Lil Bill. For the month of December, when Lil Bill's survival was still very much an open question, she was the primary student assigned to his care. "I was responsible for his bottle milk feedings, physical exams, bandage changes, administering his medications and daily treatments," Cooper said. 


But it was during Christmas break, when Lil Bill suddenly took a serious turn for the worse, that Cooper said proved to be her most memorable -- and beneficial -- experience. 

"He was critically ill, to the point where we were concerned if he was going to survives," Cooper recalled. "Thankfully, Lil Bill began to respond to the treatments and become his normal self. 


"Seeing him make those improvements was the most memorable moment for me because I learned a great deal about how to treat his current condition," she added. "I began to feel like a veterinarian." 


How does Lil Bill feel? 


"He's doing pretty well," Grissett said. "He's still having some digestive issues. He may never be entirely normal in that area. We're also probably going to have some surgery on his front legs to get them straightened out. But considering where he was when he arrived here, he's done remarkably well," she added. "I don't know if he'll have a normal life span because of all his issues. But if I've learned anything from Lil Bill, it's that you can never tell with him. He's already beaten some pretty big odds."


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

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