Updated: Apr 16, 2018
This condition is not an everyday occurrence, but it does happen from time to time and usually has a detrimental effect of some kind on the cow's health and her ability to rebreed in a timely manner. Potential causes, as well as recommended treatment options, have changed through the years and disagreement on what to do when this situation arises still exists from Veterinarian to Veterinarian or from rancher to rancher depending on their past experiences. In my own experiences, I have tried some of all of the recommended treatment options from the most conservative (doing nothing) to the most advanced (invasive manual removal) and still do not know which one is the most effective and beneficial for the cow.
A few months ago, Cattle for Christ received a donation of 12 mature registered Angus bred cows from a breeder in Colorado that were bred to calve March - May 2017. The first seven cows calved just fine, cleaned up within a few minutes, consumed their afterbirth, and went right to work raising their babies without any complications. This eighth cow to calve however, had an udder like a Holstein! She literally could had to step around her udder when she walked. Jack and I saw her calving early one morning while we were moving some hay. The delivery did not seem difficult or too lengthy , but we noticed later that afternoon that she was still walking around all bowed up and seemed to be trying to pass another calf. She would take a few steps and then stop, bow up, and strain with all her might.
It was pretty obvious, since her calf was a pretty good size and her body cavity was a more normal shape, that she was not trying to have another calf, but was still trying to pass her afterbirth. This process of passing the afterbirth (when the calf's side of the placenta separates from the mothers side and passes out the birth canal) usually happens within 30 minutes to 12 hours after calving. When the calf is still in the womb, the placenta is attached to the mother's uterus through a series of 'buttons' called cotyledons. It is through these connections that the essential elements for life (oxygen, blood sugar, proteins, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, etc.) are passed to the developing calf. If these buttons detach before calving time, the calf will be stillborn. However, if they do not detach and allow the placenta (afterbirth) to pass from the cow within 24 hours post calving, the condition is called a 'retained placenta', which is what was going on with this cow.
Treatment options is where the opinions vary. Some recommend that if the cow has not cleaned up after 24 hours, you need to manually go in and pull the afterbirth out by hand, administer antibiotics and flush with a disinfectant. Others say just pull out or clip off what you see hanging out of the vulva and leave the rest without penetrating the cow--administering antibiotics only if fever persists. Others recommend just doing nothing and let the cow pass it on her own after it basically rots (which usually happens within 11-21 days). All of these options can cause delayed rebreeding and possibly increase the chances of abortion in subsequent pregnancies, but most agree that the more aggressive the treatment option, the more serious the side effects. On this particular cow, three days after calving, Jack and I decided to just pull out what we could from what was hanging out, administer some antibiotic to fight infection, and gave her some Lutalyse (a hormone that could help her to release and pass the afterbirth). I did go slightly inside the vulva and could feel the cotyledon buttons, but because the cervix was already closing up and due to the bleeding already present, I decided not to try to extract the afterbirth by hand.
For days this cow just moped around. Though she continued to eat and drink, she lost weight and just looked bad for a couple of weeks. Though I never saw the afterbirth, while I was spreading fertilize a couple of weeks later, I am sure that I got a whiff of what she had recently passed somewhere in the pasture. I did not see it and did not have time to look for it, but I feel sure that is what I must have smelled. Only time will tell how this affects her rebreeding and her future in our herd.
During my Scripture readings this week, I reflected on this example of the cow with the retained placenta and all the crud, rot and infection that she carried around for so many days. I thought about all the pain, discomfort and detrimental effects that it had on her these many days, but that could also affect her in the future. If she does not heal up and rebreed to fulfill her purposes in our herd, she has no future except to be culled and eventually slaughtered.
I realize that there are no perfect analogies that play out to the end, but as I was reading in the book of Hebrews this week, I had many reflections about my own life that relate to this experience with the cow. I thought about the things I carry around inside me every day that do not need to be there and are only causing me harm, yet they still remain where they no longer belong. I thought of the sin that I am aware of in my life that though I have confessed them, I still seem to want to hold on to them (whether they be sins of commission: things that I do that I should not do--or sins of omission: when I do not do what I know I should do). I thought of the guilt I often carry around (whatever is causing it or whoever is the accuser). Sometimes I feel guilty because I am tempted, yet Scripture teaches that the temptation in itself is not sin--but how we respond to it is! (Jesus was tempted in every way, yet was without sin!). Sometimes I feel guilty for sin that I have confessed to God and have been able to turn and walk away from and that God has already forgiven, but I still struggle with trying to forgive myself. I thought of the burden I often carry around of not being able to do in my own strength what in reality only God can do--yet I strive still trying to do it on my own. Even if I remember to ask God for direction and intervention, I am most often too impatient and/or unwilling to wait for Him to act and accomplish His perfect will in and through my life. I often wear myself out fighting battles that are His alone to fight and where all He has asked me to do is wait for and trust in Him to accomplish in His timing.
I used the first person in all of my thoughts above because these are things that the Holy Spirit is showing me about myself. However; my guess is that you face many of the same struggles for we are all sinners, whether we are unbelievers, new believers, or if we have walked with the Lord for a long time as I have. The difference between believers and non-believers is the hope that believers have in Christ to be forgiven and delivered from sin in this life, but also the eternal hope of being cleansed from our sinful nature and made like Him when this life is over. On that day, all believers will forever be alive with Him in a Heaven that He has prepared for all who trust in Him.
My reading in Hebrews reminded me that Jesus is the perfect High Priest who once and for all made atonement for my sin and for yours through His suffering, death and resurrection. His sacrifice and shedding of blood is not a temporary event that just covers our sin, but it washes our sin away making us absolutely clean and without blemish in His sight. He is faithful and merciful--yet He is just! Because He Himself has suffered and been tempted in every way, He is able to help us when we are tempted. "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Heb 4:16).
We do not need to carry around all the sin, guilt, shame and decay inside ourselves that wear us down when we can be cleansed, set free and made whole by putting our hope and faith in who Christ is and what He has done for us. "Today, if you hear His voice, DO NOT harden your hearts as in rebellion" (Heb 3:15), but confess and turn away from sin, accept His 'grace' (God's undeserved merit and favor toward you) and you shall be saved!
Tomorrow is not promised, but 'Today', no matter what you have done or not done, if you sense the guilt of your sin, He is calling out to you and is willing to forgive your sin and cleanse you from everything that separates you from Him and His best for your life. Do not harden your heart in rebellion by ignoring His voice. Invite Him to forgive you, to save you, and to be the Lord of your life, and He will do all that 'Today'!