Sunday, January 31, 2010

Diagnosticatin'

Ranchers are the ultimate "Jack of all trades"; they have to be. Mechanic, machinist, meteorologist. Over the last week or so we have been working as veterinarians. In these parts, if a cow is sick, it is a long and expensive trip for a vet to come out and even when they do, there is no guarantee that they will have the answer and the cure. The best thing we can do is to be very observant in any changes in the animal and use what limited knowledge we have to try to diagnose the problem. This week we have been working to figure out what is wrong with Molly. With many illnesses, if you don't figure out what is wrong within 24-48 hours you can expect the situation to go downhill quickly and looking back at my notes it has been interesting to see how our diagnosis changes over time.

Day 1: Molly did not come up to feed with the rest of the herd and was laying down a short distance away. Moving away from the herd usually indicates illness or calving behavior. She would stand up and walk around but looked a little pained. We'll check on her again tomorrow to see if situation changes.

Day 2: Molly off by herself again, this time bedded down in the sagebrush. She is due to calve in February so we decide that she is probably just feeling uncomfortably pregnant and is off resting. She doesn't appear to be in labor, no signs of straining and will get up and walk around. We brought her some alfalfa and she ate a little bit. We return in the late afternoon and can't find her. It is raining quite hard and we run out of daylight.

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Day 3: We find Molly off by herself and in much worse condition. She appears weak, her ears are droopy, she is experiencing labored breathing and has scours (diarrhea). Molly is also an older cow (about 12-15 years old). We decide that given her symptoms, the fact she has not eaten in three days and that she won't get up, she is probably just old and looking for a place to die. She's found a nice sunny spot in the sagebrush and through my tears I wish her well and leave her in peace.

Day 4: Over night the temperature dropped and we got a few inches of snow. Nathan and Lloyd go to feed today. Thought Molly would probably gone but she is up and around and they walk her down to the Little Hay Shed. Not sure what is wrong. Our other sick cow, Dirty Seven, has been separated from her calf. Molly licks the calf to comfort him.

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Day 5: Molly up and eating and drinking. Still doesn't look 100%, her eyes are dull and her ears are low but she is at least up and around.

Day 6: Molly does not look good today. When she coughs up her cud it is watery and she spits it out and her cowpies are dark and dense. She appears really swelled up which could indicate bloat. When a cow is on too rich of a feed like alfalfa (we moved her to the LHS two days ago where the feed is mostly alfalfa) without enough fibrous roughage, gas builds up in their rumen and the abdomen starts to distend out on the left side of the body. However, Molly is swelled up on the right side and she is already big because she is nearly nine months pregnant. If bloat is left untreated, the gas continues to build until so much pressure is put upon the heart and lungs that the animal dies. Lloyd and Nathan decide to bring her in to the chute and treat her for bloat anyways by feeding 4 feet of old garden hose tubing down her throat and into her rumen to release the pressure. They get a few gurgles but not what would be anticipated in treating bloat. Perhaps she swallowed a piece of wire or metal and it has pierced the guts and fluid is filling her chest cavity. While she is in the chute, they give her a round of penicillin in case there is some kind of internal infection. Should have taken her temperature but didn't have the thermometer. Dirty Seven is back with Molly and her calf and is now giving Molly comfort licks.

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Day 7: Molly looks great today. All signs of swelling are gone and she has a hearty appetite. Perhaps she had a low grade infection but it seems unlikely that penicillin would have influenced the swelling so much. On our way out of the pasture we find a cowpie that tells a different story. Looks like Molly was just constipated. We feed out chopped hay up at the big hay shed and since she is older, she doesn't have many teeth to chew her cud. The chopped hay probably blocked her up and that coupled with being heavily pregnant gave her a gut ache. Not eating then weakened her but when we brought her to the little hay shed with tasty alfalfa, she started eating again but was still blocked up. In time the system normalized itself and now she seems fine.

Day 8: Who knows what I will find when I go over there today. Maybe she is better and can work on regaining her strength for calving season. Maybe we will have a new symptom to help us piece together an ever-evolving puzzle. Maybe we will never really know what exactly happened, just that she is better now. And such is the joy of being a jack of all trades, you don't know enough to have all the answers, just enough to generate more questions.

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