Bovine Phlebotomist and Free Martinism

Reader Contribution by April Freeman
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This year, I’ve learned more veterinary stuff than I ever dreamed I’d know. One duty I’ve gotten really good at is being the bovine phlebotomist. I’ve taught myself how to take blood samples from cows.

There’s a big vein that runs down the center of a cow’s tail. If you hold the cow’s tail straight up, it’s actually pretty easy to take a blood sample using a really big needle and a syringe.

My Holstein yearling named Valentine has me worried.

We got Valentine from a cattle sale as a young bottle calf. One concern that I had when we got her was just not knowing the circumstances of her birth.

See, there’s this thing with calves called “free martinism.”

If a cow has boy-girl twins, it is extremely likely that the female of the pair will be infertile. The male hormones that the boy fetus releases in-utero often damage the developing reproductive tract of the female fetus. Usually, female calves of a boy-girl twin set are infertile. They usually grow up looking less feminine and more masculine than a typical cow. Their reproductive organs are misshapen and their external “girly” parts usually look odd too.

In the back of my mind, I’ve kept the possibility that Valentine is a free-martin. I just don’t know. She does look nice and feminine. Her udder looks correctly formed for a young cow, but sometimes there are no external signs of free martinism.

We’ve had her in with the bull over the last two months or so. However, we’ve not really noticed her coming into heat. Perhaps she’s cycling at night. Could be.

Anyway, today, I took the step that will determine whether or not Valentine sticks around on the farm. I took her into the chute and obtained a vial of her blood for pregnancy testing. If it’s positive, she’ll stay. If it’s negative … well, we’re going to have to do the hard thing and send her off to the sale.

It stinks sometimes making those decisions, but we got her to be a milk cow. If she can’t be a milk cow, then we have to sell her to make room for a productive cow on the farm. That’s just the way it goes.

However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s positive. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

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