Two-Headed Calf Born at Wessington Springs Ranch
After what started out as a routine childbirth, the calf got stuck halfway through the process. Its front legs and head were out, but Kolousek and the attending vet could no longer move forward. At this point, the vet decided that a Caesarean section would be needed for the delivery.
“The heifer started to calve and everything looked normal. Two front feet and a head came out, but that 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 probably intended to be a pair of twins, but the embryo never fully separated during pregnancy, resulting in an unusual calf. A similar situation also creates Siamese twins in humans.
“It was a set of twins that the egg didn’t completely split into, like Siamese twins,” Kolousek said.
Kolousek, who raises several hundred head of cattle near Wessington Springs, said after a difficult 2019 calving season due to extremely wet weather, the 2020 season has gone much better. He had even been fortunate enough to see healthy pairs of twins being born, which is always an unexpected blessing.
“It must be the year of the twins. This year we had 60 calves and four pairs of twins. I don’t know, cows just throw a lot of twins. And that’s good, ”Kolousek said.
Twin births to cattle may not be the most common, but a Siamese couple 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, although 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 the Kolousek calf accounted for about 0.39% of all births.
“It probably happens more often than what is reported, but it is still rare,” Oedekoven said.
Kolousek said that 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 it being 1 a.m., she posted a few of these photos on Facebook to share with her family and friends.
“It happened at 1am and we all kind of took a lot of pictures and washed it up,” Kolousek said. “We do our own meat processing on the farm and we have a cold room. “
While he wasn’t sure what to do with the odd calf, social media brought more than a few interested people to his door. Along with the astonished discussion between family and friends, several taxidermists had gotten 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 1 a.m. on Saturday April 4th. Sunday night, it had 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 taxidermists and decided to sell the calf to one in Sioux Falls.
“He’s going to mount it and actually take the skeleton and clean it and glue it all back together and place it next to the body mount,” Kolousek said. “I don’t know if it will be on display or where it will be displayed, but it could take six to nine months to peel and assemble it.”
The death of a calf is always a disappointing development for a cattle breeder, but the unusual circumstances surrounding the appearance of a Siamese twin made an interesting anecdote to say the least, Kolousek said. And that adds a bit of color to a calving season that is already better head and shoulders above the year before.
“It went 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.”