Ask the Vet
Mon Aug 31, 2015 12:20 PM CDT
Surgery to repair umbilical hernias is often best done while a calf is young. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Karl Wolfshohl)

Question: Our best cow had a heifer calf with a very large navel. It looks like a large cup hanging down. It is soft, and I can push it back inside her belly, so I think this is a hernia. Does this need to be fixed? Can we keep her as a brood cow?

Answer: I think you are correct in your belief this is a hernia; it sounds like an umbilical hernia. This is so named because the umbilicus or umbilical cord passes through this ring while the calf is in the uterus. The umbilicus is made up of the blood vessels that exchange blood between the fetus and the dam, and the tube that carries urine from the fetus.

Infection in the umbilical cord (navel ill) can contribute to this and often requires medical treatment or surgical removal. Others have speculated the condition could be the result of tension on the area from a large calf, or cutting/chewing/breaking the cord off too close to the body wall. Most experts feel there is a genetic component, and it is thought to be the most common genetic defect of calves. That said, the exact mechanism of inheritance is not well understood nor is the degree of heritability.

I have fixed many umbilical hernias over the years with very good success, both with and without an infected navel. Since the hernia sac often contains intestines, I like to do surgery while the calf is young to avoid strangulation of the intestines and because I think they heal better and quicker when they are young. I do not remember any owner saying the cows I repaired had any problems as adults or that their calves had any issues, but, like most things, I feel there is some genetic component.


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