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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care March 2006

Please Note: after some thought I realize that some of you would really rather that I dehorn your calves and so I'll continue to do that. Also, DAs ( "twists" ) will continue to be done, except that if I am truly too busy to do one, it may still need to be referred. Thanks.

Hi Folks,
After nearly 11 years now in practice and trying to sort through cases that are presented, there is one kind of case that sticks out in my mind - that of "loving a cow to death" . Now what on earth could I mean by that...

Well, let's back up a moment and think about our animals and how they normally live. What is their normal response and reaction to their immediate surroundings and life events in general? For example, if a cow just calves, what is she normally like? Typically, a cow will go off feed about 12-24 hours prior to calving as internal changes rapidly progress - uterine contractions become stronger and stronger until actual birthing is taking place. What is a cow's normal response to having just given birth? Basically to rest and also take care of the calf. Hopefully, they also pass the placenta within about 6 hours of calving. Offering them water and hay are basics that a farmer needs to do at minimum as well as making sure the calf is sucking on the cow or gets enough colostrum via stomach tube.

Some farmers, out of true care and concern, will go the extra step and "help" the cow even though she truly doesn't need it. And this can lead to real problems. For instance, if a cow cleans (passes the placenta within 6 hours after calving), there is absolutely NO NEED to put anything into the uterus "to help her along" . Apparently some salesmen are telling farmers to put a certain kind of bolus into the uterus, even if she cleaned normally. WRONG. Why fix something if it isn't broken? Or, if a cow is a little slow a day after calving many people like to give a pill of one sort or another to a cow to help jump start the rumen, even though she is eating (just too slowly for the likes of the farmer). Unfortunately, there are things called "pill gun injuries" which means the pill gun itself damages the mouth lining and a raging infection occurs. These are very bad and can lead to the need of an antibiotic due to all the oral bacteria always present that could infect the injury site. Or, more commonly, people like to drench a cow with this or that to help the cow get eating better, because she is "a little slow" . You don't know how many cows I have checked for being "off-feed" when just fresh and then I find that the lungs are damaged due to drenching the cow inappropriately. This is nearly impossible to correct, even with the strongest antibiotics since no fluids should ever be in the lungs in the first place. The most offending products are the calcium products for low calcium conditions - they really burn the lung tissue intensely. Worse is when an older cow is fresh and down with twitching muscles and cold ears and depressed (classic signs for milk fever) and someone goes to drench her with a liquid calcium or calcium tube so they don't have to give an IV of calcium. Not a good idea at all! Then there are milk vein abscesses. As a vet, I do use the milk vein for intravenous placement of fluids. And yes, it is the same general system as the neck vein - it is one big circulatory system and it doesn't matter where you insert the needle to deliver the fluids - IF you do it correctly. Don't ever give a first calf heifer an IV in the milk vein as the vein simply isn't developed enough and it's very easy to get the fluid next to the vein and not in the vein. Also don't even try it on a mean cow. If you are giving an IV in the milk vein and the cow starts to kick a little this is her signal to let you know that it is not going in the right place and you ought to stop what you are doing right then and there.

I think you get the idea. For most folks it only takes one bad experience with any of the above scenarios to not repeat it. I do want to say that I really like that farmers try to treat their own cows, especially if they do it right. And most of the time things are done right and only once in a while a problem develops. It's just that over the years, I've seen many of these kinds of problems repeatedly.

We need to keep in mind the principle that intervention is not always needed. Sometimes an animal just needs a day (one day - not a bunch of days in a row) to show if she'll get better or not. All of us have our down days and animals are no different - especially those in production. Yes, we don't like it that they are not performing 100% all the time, but then again none of us do, either. I guess as a vet, I prefer using an IV treatment to get a cow stronger more quickly and I know many of you realize the benefit of knowing how to give an IV versus just giving a pill or drench in the mouth to help a slow eating cow. It's been said that a gallon of fluid in the vein is worth 10 gallons pumped into the stomach. I agree. However, it also needs to be done correctly. This has perhaps offended some of you, I really didn't mean to do that. Just step back for a minute before glugging some stuff down the cow's throat and think about *why* she might be slow and address the root cause before applying band-aids, especially if they aren't needed.

Leroy Esh has a Jersey cow for sale. 400 Hollow Rd. Quarryville. 717-786-1049. Butterfat of 4.8 and short-bred (not yet confirmed).

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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