Broken Leg on a Calf

Calves can break legs in many ways.  They can get caught in fences, run over by horses or other big cows, they can be attacked by large predators (primarily dogs, wolves, or coyotes), or they can even have bones broken during a difficult delivery.  This calf has a broken radius/ulna – they are one bone in cattle.  It’s the two bones for us that lie between your wrist and your elbow.  If you will notice, the calf is tied down with a proper calf roping tie.  It’s a rodeo sport because range cowboys need to actually rope and tie calves to work on them in the pasture.

Here is a descriptive photo with proper anatomy labeled.

calf leg

In order to address this fracture, the best case scenario would be to surgically repair it with rods, screws, and plates.  However, in the farm world, calves are not worth the money it would take to repair these types of fractures, especially when recovery rates are low.  Sometimes, the calves will heal with just a good splint, which is what I’m going to describe for you today.

There are a few things you need to address with any splint:

  1. The splint or cast must extend from the joint below the break to the joint above the break.  If you don’t stabilize both joints, the fracture will continue to move and be unable to heal.
  2. You must pad all “bony” areas to prevent pressure sores.  This includes both the top and bottom of the splint.
  3. Proper padding is essential to prevent your bandage from becoming a tourniquet and blocking necessary blood flow to the limb.

Here is a picture of padding the knee and fetlock with extra cotton prior to wrapping the leg.

Here we continue to pad the leg, using light, stretchable tape to secure in place without cutting off blood supply.  This is a “loose” layer.

Here, I’ve added an ace bandage, again, not tight enough to be constricting, but enough to keep the cotton layer from slipping.

Now we will apply the splint.  It is a cut-down piece of 3″ PVC pipe.  It has been sanded to prevent rough edges.  Both ends are padded and taped, as well as the sides.  We want to prevent any pressure sores.

Here we taped the splint to the bandaged leg, again with stretchy, padded tape.  The goal is to support without impeding circulation.

Now for the Vetrap layer.  Vetrap is self-tightening, so you want to layer it a little loose.

I always add a “racing stripe” just to secure the wrap.  Since this calf will stay outdoors, I also added a foot cover of duct tape to try and keep the bottom as dry and clean as possible.

Here’s the calf, up and learning to use his cast.

In a research study a few years ago, it was determined about 40% of calves with broken legs go on to recover fully, even if corrected surgically.  There are many secondary complications that make full recovery difficult.

We will see what happens with this one.

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