Calf born in New Mexico with extra leg on its back

Sunday, May 22, 2005

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- One of Orlando Romero's calves has a leg up on the other 25 calves born within the last two weeks on his ranch east of Tucumcari. The calf was born with an extra leg, with two hooves, growing from its back.

Ranchers in the area aren't quite sure what to make of the little Limousin heifer. That is, if they can catch her.

"She moves like a damn deer. I had a heck of a time trying to catch her," said Jess Weaks, the ranch caretaker. "She's pretty ornery, that's for sure."

The week-old calf's extra leg does not touch the ground. It is attached to the calf's back between the shoulder blades, and hangs to its right side.

The branch-like growth is the only major difference between the copper-colored calf and the rest of the herd, said Shane Jennings, a neighbor who first spotted the heifer.

"It's just cosmetic. She's out there in the pasture right now, like any other cow. It's in real good health," Jennings said.

Jennings was in the field checking on yearlings last week when he saw that one cow was close to giving birth. He left to tend to other work, and when he returned he saw the cow with her new calf.

But he was startled by what he saw when he approached the hours-old calf.

Milton Thomas, professor of beef cattle physiology and genetics at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, said extra body parts are a freak occurrence.

"It's very, very rare," Thomas said. "Generally, a lot of these don't do well."

Thomas said extra appendages result from a cellular mix-up during the replication of genetic material in early embryo development. Certain cells will develop into tissues such as muscles or organs, but some receive skewed signals and grow into unnecessary parts.

"This calf wasn't exposed to anything in the environment or anything like that. This happens to all mammalian species," Thomas said.

Weaks said Romero has talked with veterinarians about removing the leg, and will likely transport the calf to his other ranch in Sapello, where it will become an ordinary cow.

"All (Romero) did was laugh when I told him about the calf," Weaks said. "I think he's gonna keep her. She's so cute. Women would die for eyelashes like hers."

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