Friday, February 25, 2011

Schistoso-what?

A few years back, I remember coming home from wherever I had been that day and my dad telling me that we had lost a newborn calf.  This saddened me, we didn't often lose calves, but it was something that did happen and you have to accept it.  It's a part of farming, not a fun part, but a part none the less.  He proceeded to tell me about how the momma cow was having a hard time delivering and he had to pull the calf.  He knew instantly that something was wrong.  The calf was deformed in a way that he had never seen before in his many years of farming.  Upon delivery, you could see the extent of the deformity.  The calf was literally inside out.

I went up to the shed to see what dad was talking about.  I just couldn't picture it in my head.  It was dark and we didn't get any good pictures, but the image has stuck with me.  I described it to many farming friends and even a college professor, but none of them had ever seen anything like it.  Our vet said it was a very rare deformity called schistosomas reflexus, and he in fact had only seen one case before in his 40+ years of vet medicine. 

I haven't heard of anyone I know having a calf born with this condition since, but yesterday, I ran across a blog post by Holly Spangler and she too described a calf that was born this way.  She was able to get some pictures so I thought I'd share her blog post below.     

Note: This blog includes photos images that may be graphic in nature.

Well, We've Never Seen That Before

I mentioned earlier this week that we had a deformed calf born on our farm over the weekend. The first word came as the kids, our babysitter niece and I were waiting to hear what was up with the calving situation. I called my mother-in-law, who reported that my father-in-law said they were doing a C-section because the calf was “inside out.”

That really didn’t make any sense to me, at least until I saw it. Then, it struck me as the perfect description.

Also, apologies for the poor photographs. It was dark, it was cold, I was shooting in the light of the tractor headlights and I had three small children waiting and asking 4.6 million questions. And, my husband kept telling me to move because I was blocking the light. Oops – sorry, Dr. Barkley!


The official term is schistosomas reflexus. Essentially, the body cavity fails to form around the calf’s organs. The calf sort of folds back on itself, kind of like a bat, and the legs and head all point in the same direction. The leg joints are fused. For his part, John knew he had a problem when he reached in to pull the calf and felt its spine. Time to call the professionals.

I can say, in 34 years in the cattle business, I’ve not seen a deformed calf like this. The veterinarian who came out to the farm confirms it’s a rarity, noting he’s only seen two or three in his career. Another vet in his office adds that it’s more typically found in Holsteins, and fairly rare in beef cattle. I did a Google search last night and sure enough, most photos were of Holstein calves.


Schistosomas reflexus is considered a congenital defect, rather than a hereditary one, which is to say some fluke occurred in the gestational building process. Hereditary defects are genetic and are passed down through the genetic pool. So that’s a relief. It also means it’s not TH or PHA.

Here’s hoping this is the most “exciting” point of the 2011 calving season. It can only get better from here, right?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, so sorry about he little guy/girl, they probably would have been a beautiful little calf! <3 <3 <3 <3

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