Two-Headed Calf Born at Wessington Springs Cattle Ranch – Mitchell Republic
WESSINGTON SPRINGS — Scott Kolousek was in the middle of the 2020 calving season when one of his cows started having trouble delivering her calf.
After what started out as a routine delivery, the calf got stuck halfway through the process. His front legs and head were out, but Kolousek and the attending vet couldn’t move forward. At that point, the vet decided that a caesarean would be needed for delivery.
“The heifer started to calve and everything seemed normal. Two front feet and a header came out, but it wouldn’t go any further,” Kolousek said.
When the calf was finally delivered, it was dead in the process. But what Kolousek saw once he was removed from the womb stunned him.
The calf had two heads.
“I’ve been on the farm since 1996, so it’s been 24 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Kolousek said.
The calf had two heads and two completely separate spines that were joined at the pelvis, to which a single tail was attached. Kolousek said the calf was likely destined to be a set of twins, but the embryo never completely separated during the pregnancy, resulting in an unusual calf. A similar situation also creates conjoined twins in humans.
“It was a set of twins in which the egg didn’t split completely, like conjoined twins,” Kolousek said.
Kolousek, who raises several hundred head of cattle near Wessington Springs, said after a difficult calving season in 2019 due to extremely wet weather, the 2020 season went much better. He was even blessed with the birth of healthy sets of twins, which is always an unexpected blessing.
“It must be the year of twins. This year we had 60 calves and four sets of twins. I don’t know, cows shed a lot of twins. And that’s good,” Kolousek said.
Livestock twin births may not be the most common, but a conjoined pair like the one Kolousek helped deliver last week is much rarer. South Dakota state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven said the state could see one such birth per year, though the incidents aren’t necessarily so widely reported.
“It’s about once a year, and it’s interesting,” Oedekoven said.
Oedekoven noted a 1998 study from the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, which indicated that births of calves matching the description of Kolousek’s calf accounted for about 0.39% of all births.
“It probably happens more often than reported, but it’s still rare,” Oedekoven said.
Kolousek said after the calf was delivered, they put it aside in a cooler on site after washing it. His wife Amber took several photos of the anomaly. Despite the fact that it was 1 a.m., she posted a few of these photos on Facebook to share with her family and friends.
“It happened at 1 a.m. and we all kind of took a lot of pictures and washed it off,” Kolousek said. “We do our own meat processing on the farm and we have a cold room.”
When he didn’t know what to do with the strange calf, social media brought more than a few interested parties to his doorstep. Along with the amazed discussion among family and friends, several taxidermists had caught wind of the calf and approached it to sell it with the intention of riding it.
“My wife put him on Facebook after he was born at 1am on Saturday April 4th. Sunday night, there were 10,000 shares. It kind of exploded,” Kolousek said. “We had taxidermists from Maine, New Jersey, Rapid City, a couple in Sioux Falls.”
Kolousek said he interacted with several of the taxidermists and decided to sell the calf to one in Sioux Falls.
“He’s going to mount it and take the skeleton, clean it up and glue it back together and place it next to the body support,” Kolousek said. “I don’t know if it will be displayed or where it will be displayed, but it could take six to nine months to have it decorated and mounted.”
The death of a calf is always a disappointing development for a cattle rancher, but the unusual circumstances surrounding the appearance of a conjoined twin made for an interesting anecdote to say the least, Kolousek said. And it adds a bit of color to a calving season that is already head and shoulders better than the year before.
“It’s going really well, no problem. Winter is a big factor, and last year it kicked our ass,” Kolousek said. “And this year has been a dream.”