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Two-headed calf born at Wessington Springs cattle ranch

Stillborn calf had two heads, spinal columns

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A rare two-headed calf was delivered to a heifer on the Scott Kolousek farm near Wessington Springs recently. The stillborn calf had two heads and two spinal columns attached to a single pelvis. Experts estimate this kind of birth in cattle represents approximately 0.39% of all births. (Submitted Photo)
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WESSINGTON SPRINGS — Scott Kolousek was in the middle of the 2020 calving season when one of his cows began to have problems delivering its calf.

After what began as a routine delivery, the calf got stuck halfway through the process. Its front legs and head were out, but Kolousek and the attending veterinarian couldn’t make any more progress. At that point, the veterinarian decided a cesarean section would be necessary for delivery.

“The heifer started calving and everything looked normal. Two front feet and a head came out, but it wouldn’t go any farther,” Kolousek said.

When the calf was eventually delivered, it had died during the process. But what Kolousek saw once it had been removed from the womb stunned him.

The calf had two heads.

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“I’ve been on the farm since 1996, so that’s 24 years, and I’ve never seen anything close to that before,” Kolousek said.

The calf had two heads and two completely separate spinal columns that were joined at the pelvis, attached to which was a single tail. Kolousek said the calf was likely destined to be a set of twins, but the embryo never completely split during the pregnancy, resulting in the unusual calf. A similar situation also creates Siamese twins in humans.

“It was a set of twins in which the egg didn’t fully split, like Siamese twins,” Kolousek said.

Kolousek, who raises several hundred head of cattle near Wessington Springs, said after a rough calving season in 2019 due to the extremely wet weather, the 2020 season had been going much smoother. He had even had the good fortune to see healthy sets of twins born, something that is always an unexpected blessing.

“This must be the year for twins. This year we had 60 calves and four sets of twins. I don’t know, the cows are just throwing a lot of twins. And that’s good,” Kolousek said.

Twin births with cattle may not be the most common, but a conjoined pair like the one Kolousek helped deliver last week are far more rare. Dustin Oedekoven, state veterinarian for South Dakota, said the state may see one such birth a year, though the incidents aren’t necessarily that widely reported.

“It’s about once a year, and it is interesting,” Oedekoven said.

Oedekoven noted a 1998 study from the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada that indicated calf births that match the description of the Kolousek calf account for around 0.39% of all births.

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“It probably does happen more often than gets reported, but it is still uncommon,” Oedekoven said.

Kolousek said after the calf was delivered, they put it aside in an on-site cooler after washing it clean. His wife Amber took several pictures of the anomaly. Despite the fact it was 1 a.m., she posted a few of those pictures on Facebook to share with family and friends.

“It happened at 1 a.m. and we all just kind of took a lot of pictures of it and washed it off,” Kolousek said. “We do our own meat processing on the farm, and we have a walk-in cooler.”

While he was unsure 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 gotten wind of the calf and approached him about selling it with the intention of it being mounted.

“My wife put it on Facebook after it was born at 1 a.m. Saturday, April 4. By Sunday evening 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 of the taxidermists and settled on selling 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 have it standing next to the body mount,” Kolousek said. “I don’t know if it will be on display or where it will be on display, but it could be a six to nine-month process to get it skinned and mounted.”

The death of a calf is always a disappointing development for a cattle producer, but the unusual circumstances surrounding the appearance of a conjoined twin has made for an interesting anecdote at the very least, Kolousek said. And it’s added a little color to a calving season that is already head and shoulders better than the year previous.

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“It’s been going great, no problems. Winter is a big factor, and last year it kicked our butt,” Kolousek said. “And this year has been a dream.”

Related Topics: AGRICULTURECATTLE
Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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