Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Who Gets Excited About Necropsies?

Just like humans, animals can die of an unknown cause. In this situation, some veterinarians will do a necropsy which is the same thing as an autopsy which would be done on a human. A necropsy is the procedure performed postmortem to determine the cause of death, injury or sickness on a non-human body.

Necropsies are not something I, as the wife of the veterinarian, get too excited about. My husband, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoys getting a good look at the inside of the animal and all of the intricate workings of it's body. I understand why....I think.

First, it is something out of the ordinary. Second, usually leading up to a necropsy the vet may or may not have a good idea of what caused the death. So naturally, there is some anticipation to find what may have really been going on inside the animal's body. Third, it gives the vet a chance to use all of that knowledge of pathology and biology and any other vet medicine courses he or she had in vet school. Fourth, it can be a great educational experience for everyone involved.

Recently, the farm vet performed some necropsies on some young calves that had died. He used that opportunity to show employees whom work with cattle every day to see the effects of some of the diseases on the inside of the body. Respiratory diseases such as pneumonia show visible signs on the lungs of baby animals and it has a big impact for the employees and owners to be able to visualize that. It helps to stress the importance of detecting illnesses in a timely manner and properly administering treatments.

This is a topic in which we can't really avoid showing some blood and beware!

Here is another photo of one of the farm vet's colleagues performing a necropsy on a horse.

Dairy Herd Check

Many days the farm vet will start his morning very early with what is called a "herd check" at a dairy. This has become common practice on today's dairy farms and happens normally every week or two weeks. The cows that have been bred are checked rectally, yes through the rear end, to see whether or not they are pregnant. The veterinarians are experts in the field of reproduction! They can detect the fetus/a pregnancy as early as 36 days old by palpation. When using an ultrasound, they can detect the pregnancy even earlier! 

This procedure does not hurt the cows and most of them seem quite comfortable with the veterinarian. As the vet is walking along behind the cows this is a good opportunity for him or her to check for lameness issues, body condition, udder health, and general cow health. There will also be either the owner or an employee walking along at the head of the cows which enables them to get a good look at the eyes, ears and feed consumption. It is a great time to discuss issues on the dairy or just discuss the news! Here is a video showing the farm vet on a herd check.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Globosus Amorphus...??

As we've said before, the job is full of surprises and challenges. The farm vet was called out to a farm where a cow was having difficulty giving birth. We call this a difficult "calving." The cow looked healthy and normal but when the farm vet examined her he knew right away what the problem was. She had a twisted uterus. There was no way this baby was coming out on its own.

One of the advantages the farm vet says he has over some people are his "monkey arms." His long arms enable him to work well with large animals, especially when doing procedures internally on a cow. This trait allows him to fully get his arms around the uterus of a cow and turn it over to untwist it. There has to be a good amount of strength and leverage to do this and he got it done on this cow!

He then pulled the calf out, alive and healthy, thank goodness. When he put his arm back in to check everything was OK in the uterus, he felt something else. There was something that had the texture of a furry ball. What he pulled out he had never seen before! A globosus amorphus!

"A what?!" I said. It is something very rare. The definition is:
"Globosus amorphus (shapeless mass) is an incomplete twin with a vascular connection to the placenta of its twin. All three primary germ layers are present (ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm)."

In all of the calvings the farm vet has dealt with he had not come across this phenomenon yet. The farm workers were also shocked and couldn't believe what they were seeing. The definition and photo I found are courtesy of the Drost Project .

Nature is very unpredictable and keeps the job interesting and the farm vet on his toes!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Loss of a Pet

"When I see a man cry whom usually shows no emotion, that makes it even harder." The farm vet had to put down a dog for one of his dairy clients. This dog was part of the family and part of the farm. It was sixteen years old and went to work every day with his owner. Loyally, following him around the dairy day in and day out.

It was old age and he wasn't able to get up and move around much anymore. The dairy farmer finally decided it was time. This is the dairy farmer that is very matter of fact about things, answers his phone in a gruff tone and is a bit difficult to approach about something that could be confrontational. So when he asked the farm vet to put down his old dog, there wasn't any expectation of an emotional goodbye.

This dog obviously had  a special place in the heart of it's owner. The farm vet prepared everything to put the dog to sleep and the owner started crying and left because he did not want to watch. The farm vet was shocked at the show of emotion from the man. An employee that had been working at the dairy for many years helped the farm vet and the employee also started to get emotional. He said the dog had been around as long as he had been working at the dairy. When it was done, the employee took the dog away to bury him for the owner.

Even the gruffest of men have a soft spot somewhere in their heart and this man's happened to be for his dog. There's no comparison to the loyalty of a pet like that.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Being "Ag-Thankful" This Month!

We were flattered to be able to write a "guest post" for Ryan Goodman's blog, Agriculture Proud. He has a theme for his blog this month which involves guest bloggers writing about why they are thankful to be involved in agriculture. There have been some fantastic posts by Ryan and his guest bloggers. Please check it out when you have a minute!

What are you thankful for?

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's a Technological World

The farm vet spends much of his time on a computer entering and analyzing herd health information for his dairy clients. This is part of the routine on most dairy farms. The computer program is used to track medical treatments, illnesses, milk production, reproduction data, and family lineages. Each individual cow will have it's own "cow-card" and everything about it gets recorded and kept in that "cow-file". After the farm vet does a herd check, he will then go to the computer where all of the cow files are stored and enter what he has found that day.

This is a picture of a Psion. Some dairies use electronic ear tags that are assigned to each animals unique number or ID. The Psion can read this electronic (RFID) tag next to the cow's visual ID tag and then display that cow's file on the small screen. This enables us to look at all the information for that cow instantly which helps in making speedy and accurate decisions.

There are many benefits to using this computer program on a dairy. It is a management tool and they are able to track the overall health of their herds with graphs and charts. The farm vet will usually run through a mental list of trends he looks for in the herds. He can compare herds against each other, identify areas for improvement and areas that deserve praise!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Livestock and Climate Change

We have not tried to spur political debate with our blog posts thus far. We purely like to tell small stories about what a farm veterinarian does. This post is going to be a bit different. I recently saw a presentation by Dr. Frank Mitloehner from University of California, Davis. He is one of the authors of Clearing the Air: Livestock's Contribution to Climate Change. This topic is near and dear to us as our lives are so closely intertwined with livestock on a daily basis.

Livestock, especially cattle, have taken a beating in the press for the impact they may have on climate change. I am not saying there is no impact but I am genuinely surprised at how animal agriculture has become an easy scapegoat when there are much larger contributors to the problem. I think it has become very easy to criticize it because our food is not a scarcity. What is the REAL problem we have at hand?

I encourage everyone to click on the link highlighted above to read the research and conclusions of Dr. Mitloehner and his colleagues. It challenges some of the findings in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's report titled Livestock's Long Shadow which was published in 2006. Here is an excerpt from the conclusion of Clearing the Air which I find interesting: "Livestock production in most countries of the developed world (e.g., United States and Europe) has a relatively small green house gas (GHG) contribution within the overall carbon portfolios, dwarfed by large transportation, energy, and other industry sectors. In contrast, livestock production in the developing world can be a dominant contributor to a country’s GHG portfolio, due to the developing world’s significantly smaller transportation and energy sectors." At the least, please read the conclusions of the document. 

I agree that everyone has to do their part to help fix the problem. I hope that we take seriously the impacts of jumping to conclusions and not recognizing the work that has already been done to improve efficiency. Give credit where credit is due and let us work together to find solutions and not create more problems.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Farm Vet Makes the Front Page!

Last night the farm vet had two emergencies to tend to. Not getting home until after ten o'clock to eat dinner and the thought of an early morning herd check looming in the distance, he was tired to say the least.

This morning we had a wonderful surprise! The local newspaper, The Fresno Bee, had run a front page article on the shortage of farm veterinarians! The farm vet had been interviewed and pictured for the article but we did not know when it was going to be published and that it would appear on the front page. After a long night of emergencies it was nice to wake up to the newspaper giving recognition to food animal veterinarian's hard work. Here is the link to the article:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What Do You Picture When You Think of a Farm Vet?

The image of modern farms today can be somewhat misconstrued because people are unfamiliar with what a modern farm may look like. I think the same can happen with a modern farm veterinarian. Not necessarily the physical attributes of the vet, but the tools they use and the way they perform their jobs. Take this for example, I bought my husband a medical bag that he could use to carry some essential items in a hurry. That bag, with it's few essential items, rides around in our "family" vehicle in case one of us or one of our dogs gets injured unexpectedly! It's cute but it's just not suited for the modern farm veterinarian (silly me)!

Nowadays many of the farm vets drive around in a "vet truck" or something of that sort. The pickup trucks are fitted with a large box in the bed to carry all of the essentials. These come in different sizes depending on the needs of the vet. Since the farm vet does mixed practice, cattle, equine and the odd pig or goat, he needs to hold a wide variety of tools. This is what my little medicine bag has to contend with!

Advances in technology and medicine have improved the veterinary profession and the overall understanding of the health of the animals. You will see the symbol of the American Veterinary Medical Association on the back of the vet box. Here is some information I found on the internet:
The rod of Asclepius is an ancient symbol associated with astrology, the Greek god Ascelpius, and with medicine and healing. It consists of a serpent entwined around a staff. The serpent and the staff have various interpretations some of which represent the nature of the work of a physician, dealing with sickness and health, and life and death. The V superimposed over the serpent and staff is the symbol for the veterinarian.
So if you see a truck zooming around like there's no tomorrow with a vet box on the back, you can guess why they are in a hurry to get somewhere!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Labor Pains.....

There is a problem that can occur when a cow has her baby which is called a prolapsed uterus. This is when the uterus prolapses out as a result of a difficult calving or constant pushing by the mother, even after the calf has been born. It has been happening for as long as we know and the only way to fix it is to carefully push the uterus back into place.

This week the farm vet had a an emergency call for a cow that had prolapsed her uterus. Usually the farmers will make an attempt to fix the problem before they call the vet out and if it is a difficult case, that is when they make the call. The farm vet knows the two dairy farming brothers that called him out. They have been in the business their whole lives and are close to 60 years of age. He knew this was most likely going to be a difficult case as these men are very experienced.

When he arrived the cow was down and continually pushing with her uterus out. One brother was there and told the farm vet she had had a difficult calving. Just to give you an idea of the task at hand, imagine how large a cow's uterus is right after giving birth to a 100 pound calf. The farm vet suited up and gave the cow an epidural. The uterus gets cleaned and then the slow process of pushing it back into place begins. This takes an extreme amount of patience. Patience is one of the key qualities needed for a job like this. The farm vet was pleased to have encouragement from one of the brothers helping him and the other brother consoling the cow, sweet talking her the whole time.

Inch by inch they worked and after about 30 minutes of pushing and maneuvering, the uterus was put back in place. The farm vet checked to make sure it was properly positioned and put one stitch across the vulva to prevent the problem from recurring. When he stood up he realized how exhausted he was and covered in blood and fluid! This is not one of the glamorous moments in the profession but when you see the caring owners and the cow that now has a chance to live it makes it all worth it. The farm vet, tired and mucky, took a moment to watch the mama cow start to lick her new baby. There are these moments which make the profession rewarding. When the farm vet got home he said, "Instead of rushing away, I took a minute to watch the cow with her calf because it really is important to appreciate what has just taken place."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Its That Time of Year - Fair Time!

The weather is starting to cool off, corn chopping is beginning and the frantic calls are coming in from people preparing their best animals to take them to the fair! It's "fair season" in California and that means the livestock shows will be taking place. The fair is a wonderful place to take the kids if you would like to expose them to some farm animals without having to find your way onto a farm.

The farm vet has been out to see a few clients to do some tuberculosis testing on dairy cattle to make sure they are tuberculosis free when they are sold. He will be dehorning some beef cattle for showing purposes and has been out to see a sheep and a pig that will be making their trip to the local fair as well. These animals are shown by the youth involved in animal agriculture. The amount of time and effort put into raising these animals so they can take them to the fair is huge. It takes a lot of discipline and responsibility to work with the animals and prepare them. The young kids that get the opportunity to do this are very lucky and learn a lot from it. I know as I am speaking from experience. ;-)
Isn't she a beauty?!

 Our hope is that all fairs will continue the tradition of having livestock shows. Not only for the people and kids directly involved in agriculture, but also for those people that are not. It gives them an opportunity to come in contact with the animals and the people that raise them. I have many fond memories of showing cattle at our local fair and I hope our children will have the chance to experience that.

Here are a few pictures of some of the dairy heifers the farm vet checked.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Farm Vet in England

We recently went back to England to visit the farm vet's family. It was a fantastic trip and we were very fortunate to experience great weather throughout the trip. One of the highlights of the vacation was visiting a local dairy farm in Lincolnshire. Yes, this is what we get excited to do on our vacations. Visiting dairies is our "cup of tea." :-)

This farm is a bit unusual for an English dairy as it is going to be expanding it's milking herd up to 650 cows. That is quite a bit larger than the average herd size in England. The owner is a young dairy farmer and was a wonderful host. We spent three hours discussing the U.S. and U.K. dairy industries. He was gracious enough to show us around and did this without much notice prior to our arrival. It was refreshing to see this young dairy farmer speak with so much motivation and ambition to progress and succeed when the world presents so many challenges for dairy farmers these days. We will see if he starts a trend with the expansion of his dairy farm......

Here is a photo of his milk barn system and also a photo of his current cow housing. The cows will be let out on pasture in the summer and be kept inside for the winter. He is renovating a barn with individual stalls for the cows to lay down in.

The calves are fed with this milk tank, not individually by bottle. This was something new for us to see and it looks as though it is yielding good results!

It was nice to see the different management practices he is implementing. As we say, it all comes down to good management and he looks like he is doing a great job. We would like to thank Tom Rawson for his time and openness with us. We wish him all the best with his new ventures.

A walk in the famous Yorkshire Dales where James Herriot spent his days as a veterinary surgeon was another highlight of our trip. I could not help but picture him racing around from farm to farm on the narrow, winding roads. Here are a few photos of the beautiful countryside which we were lucky enough to enjoy. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Boy or Girl, Bull or Heifer?

Some might say it is ruining the "surprise" if you find out the sex of baby before it is born but others might say they just like to be able to plan ahead. This is true to some cattle raisers that have pregnant cows. They like to find out the sex of the calf as soon as they can! The farm vet uses an ultrasound machine, just like the doctors use for humans, and is able to determine the sex between 60-75 days pregnant. Remember, a cow's gestation period is nine months too.

Some of the reasons for doing this include planning for how many heifers they will need to accommodate and deciding whether they will sell the offspring or not. It is another management tool for the cattle owner and one of the advances in technology that has enabled them to plan ahead for their business. Here are some photos of the ultrasound machine showing a  64 day old fetus. Can you guess what sex it is? You can click on the photos to enlarge them. ;-)
If you guessed a female, you are right!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Farm Vet in Puerto Rico!

In honor of our wedding anniversary this month we decided to show you a tidbit of what we did on our honeymoon. The farm vet couldn't get away from cows and horses! I know this might seem crazy to some people but we thoroughly enjoyed touring a Puerto Rican dairy and seeing the role horses play in the culture. It was only one day of our trip but it definitely was an interesting one. The farm vet nearly put in a full day's work!

We did not know what to expect as far as the dairy facility but it was surprisingly similar to what we have here in the western United States. The farm vet could have spent some extra time there to help them improve in a few areas but we were reminded that we were on our honeymoon, not a work visit. ;-)

The beautiful bed and breakfast we stayed at in Rincon, called Tres Sirenas, was fantastic! The owner was a ton of fun and drove us around for the day to see the dairy and horses. We hope we will make it back there some day as it holds a special place in our hearts. This video is a collection of clips from the day. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The 'Next Generation' Artificial Insemination

We are continuing the "next generation" blog posts with showing you a common way a heifer on a dairy gets pregnant. Hopefully you have had the chance to look at the previous posts called "A New Arrival," "At the Calf Nursery" and "The Big Girl Corrals." Here is a brief explanation of how artificial insemination is used to impregnate a heifer or cow.

Most dairies have an age and size requirement for their heifers before they will start allowing them to get pregnant. This is to make sure they are healthy and sufficiently matured enough to carry a calf. The farm vet may assist the dairy farmer in this area by evaluating the animals. Once they pass inspection, they are put in a special pen where a "breeder" passes through, every day, to see if any of the animals are "in heat" (ready to breed). The breeder finds those that are ready and uses a thin pipette to deposit semen from a carefully selected bull into the uterus. Bing, bang, boom, and it's done! The breeders are very experienced in doing this and it causes no harm to the animal whatsoever. Good breeders are gentle and patient with the animals. Watch the video below to see how it's done!

You may ask, why aren't real bulls used to breed the cows? Some dairy farmers do use bulls for breeding and some may use a combination of breeding bulls and artificial insemination. It is a management and health choice. Artificial insemination reduces the risk of venereal diseases being spread in a herd and allows dairymen to match specific cows with desired bulls. Some producers have gotten away from using solely bulls as it presents a danger to people working with them. Again, it is a management choice and each dairy farmer will decide what is best suited for them.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Late Night Horse Call.....

The farm vet was on call this last weekend and received an emergency call about a horse that was choking. This is something that can happen when the feed gets impacted in the esophagus of a horse. It was about ten o'clock at night, right about when the farm vet was getting ready to go to bed. The farm vet headed out to the call as the owner was not able to bring the horse in. The owner was not only nursing her horse at home but monitoring her child's sleep-over party.

When the farm vet arrived, the horse was indeed choking on it's feed. The lighting was not the best in the area where the horse was being kept, which is not uncommon for making house calls. To "un-choke" the horse he had to place a tube down through the nostril into the esophagus to reach the impaction. This needs to be done by someone with some experience and knowledge of equine anatomy as the tube can go into the lungs instead of toward the stomach. Then it took a series of flushing the impaction with water and siphoning out the impacted feed. This can require quite a bit of energy and time.

With the horse continually coughing to loosen the impaction, it made it difficult for the farm vet to get out of the way of projectile feed coming out! By the end of it, the farm vet was covered in half-digested feed and the horse was back to normal. The woman that owned the horse was very thankful and the farm vet went on his way. When he got home he had to sleepily take a shower before he could get into bed, of course!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This Little Piggy...

As you can see from the posts, the farm vet works primarily with cattle but also does some work with horses in between. This week he had a call for a different species! It was for a pig that had a prolapsed rectum. It most likely happened because the pig had been straining as a result of bowel problems.

We have to admit that the porcine species is not the favorite of the farm vet and he does not work with them on a regular basis. He does have some experience working with the animals from vet school. He spent a couple weeks on a sow farm in England but had never encountered a prolapsed rectum! So, he discussed the situation with some of his colleagues and decided how best to treat it.

This pig was at a high school farm nearby. When the farm vet arrived, there were students and the farm adviser all there to watch and help. Pigs are very good at squealing at a very high pitch for long lengths of time and this pig lived up to that description perfectly. Needless to say, this is not one of the qualities the farm vet enjoys about pigs. After a few minutes of struggling to wrestle the pig into a position where he could work on it, he managed to clean the rectum, get it put back into place and put a stitch in so as to help prevent the problem from occurring again. The job got done and the pig has been reported to be doing well! It was a fun trip to do something out of the ordinary. This is why they call it "veterinary practice," as the farm vet would say.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Tail Docking

Reading other blogs and opinions on the internet, it seems there are many people out there that think all dairy farmers dock their cows tails. Let's get straight to the point: NOT ALL DAIRY FARMERS DOCK COWS TAILS. To add to that, we think it is an extremely small percentage that do. Legislation passed two years ago to make it illegal to dock cows tails in California. It is now an illegal practice in this state, with the exception of  special circumstances when the animal injures it's tail and it needs to be removed.

Tail docking was a management practice for some dairies as it was believed to improve the hygiene of the cow and the quality of the milk. The reasoning on this was without the long tails, they wouldn't be able to spread manure and mud around the area of the udder. Now, most dairymen trim the "switch" of the tail. It's the long-haired portion at the end of the tail. None of the actual tail is docked, they're just getting a haircut! This does help decrease the spread of mud and manure by it's tail.

The farm vet performed a recent surgery to amputate a cow's tail as she had broken it. This qualifies as an exception to the law. He thinks another cow may have stepped on it accidentally or she got it caught on a gate somehow. Whatever the case, she will be much more comfortable now. A broken tail is nearly impossible to try to fix on a cow. In this case the skin was broken so the best option was to amputate the tail to decrease pain and risk of infection. Below the farm vet is giving this cow an epidural so she will not feel the surgery.
The tail is scrubbed and disinfected before the surgery begins. You can see where the break is in the red circle.

Here the farm vet is about to make the initial incision.
After the bottom portion is amputated, the farm vet cauterized the area to stop the bleeding and reduce chance of infection. It all went well and the cow will now be more comfortable.

I'd like to end by wishing everyone a wonderful 4th of July weekend! We are so appreciative to live in such a beautiful country with freedom of speech and expression. Thank you to all of the people that have fought to keep it that way! As you know, the Farm Vet is English and so this is an ironic holiday for him to celebrate. :-) Here is a photo of the flags we had flying at our wedding to show our gratitude for our two great nations!

God Bless America (and Great Britain)!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sophie: The Horses Arch-Nemesis

One of our dogs, named Sophie, has an obsession with tearing apart flakes of hay! We found it  funny at first but she has now become a nuisance to the horses. One of Sophie's favorite times of the day is when the horses get their feed. She has an amazing ability to attack a flake of hay and shake it apart just before it hits the ground. It is strewn about in pieces by the time the horses get to it.

She is a very agile dog, being a mix of Queensland and Australian Shepherd. The combination of high energy and extreme intensity in her personality make it hard to keep her from going after the horse's feed. Amazingly, Sophie has managed to avoid several close calls with a horse's kick. We have semi-broken her habit of tearing apart the flakes. When she is not allowed to attack the hay, she instead takes it out on the wheelbarrow carrying the hay. She has started nipping at the wheelbarrow, naturally, as it is the next closest thing to the flakes of hay!  Here is a clip of Sophie in action.........she has a love-hate relationship with the horses! :-)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cows Get Cancer Too

This week the farm vet had to perform a surgery in order to remove cancerous growths around the eye of a cow. Unfortunately, he had removed one of this cow's eyes several years ago and the other eye now has a tumor. This is a procedure the farm vet will carry out as they arise every once and a while on farms. He uses a sedative and then a local anaesthetic to numb the area that will be worked on. The whole eye was removed last time due to a particularly aggressive "cancer-eye".

In this particular case we were able to save the remaining eye by surgically removing the growths and "freezing" the cancerous area with liquid nitrogen so the cow could keep her eye and vision!
Some cows are more susceptible to this type of cancer than others. It generally occurs more in older, white-faced cattle. The affects of the sun are more harsh on the cattle with light colored faces. It is beneficial for the farmers to have this procedure done to improve the health and well-being of the animals. This particular cow doubled her milk production after the farm vet removed the first cancerous eye! She was definitely feeling better! Hopefully the latest cryosurgery/freezing will prove to be successful and she will improve even more.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Reality of Life and Death

This week the farm vet had to euthanize two cows and a horse. The owners of these animals made the decision to have this done because these animals no longer had a good quality of life. It is a powerful thing to watch an animal be 'put to sleep.' This post is not meant to be morbid but more informational for those that do not raise farm animals.

One of the reasons we started this blog was to show the reality of being a large animal veterinarian and working with farm animals. The reality is that life and death happen on farms. In some cases, the animal owners have to make difficult decisions as to when an animal no longer has a good quality of life. This is not easy and is not taken lightly. Many times, this is when the farm vet will lend some advice and a helping hand. Trust me, no one likes this part of the job but rather accepts the fact that it has to be done.

There are times when the animal owners put the animals down themselves as the vet cannot get there soon enough or there may not be enough vets in the area to cover all of the work. It is not uncommon for farm animal owners to do this and it doesn't go without saying that many really struggle with it. The veterinarians can use a gunshot or an injectable barbiturate solution which they have a license to carry. Farm owners on the other hand, are not licensed to have this injectable solution so they will use gunshot or a captive bolt device. As approved by the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, a properly placed gunshot can cause immediate insensibility and humane death. For people that are not used to this, it may seem barbaric but it is the fastest way to euthanize the animal humanely.

This is definitely not one of the fun parts of the job but it is a reality. There's something to be said for the people that have to carry out euthanasia's. There has to be a certain level of confidence that all feasible treatment options have been exhausted and it is for the betterment of the animal. It can be interpreted here in the Veterinarian's Oath:
"Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering..."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Animal Abuse: It's Disgusting!

Unfortunately, in this world there are bad things that happen that we try hard to prevent but it's impossible to stop. One of those things is people bringing harm upon animals that cannot defend themselves. Just like any other crime, we have laws to bring consequences to the people that do this but there are always those bad apples that continue to do it! There are laws that make animal abuse illegal and those people will face consequences if the authorities find them guilty of breaking these laws.
Some of this may go on in animal agriculture today and we try our best to ensure it does not. I encourage people to educate themselves on animal agriculture and talk to farmers, veterinarians and animal scientists that work with these animals every day. Through the work of the farm vet he has found that 99% of the animal owners he works with try their best to provide the best lifestyle for their animals. We do have to keep in mind that these animals are not pets, so they will not be living in the house and going on family vacations with their owners! They will be receiving adequate food and water and medical care and treatment as necessary.
Those people that do not take care of their animals and abuse them are a disgrace to their peers. I hope people see the bigger picture of animal owners, that they are good people and are in the business of animal agriculture because they ENJOY it and have RESPECT for the animals. Please, do not forget that. As is common with our media today, it focuses on the negative isolated incidents instead of any of the positive. If you see something you don't understand or would like an explanation on, ask us!
Here are some websites to get a glimpse into the life of some of the cattle owners in family businesses today:



Monday, May 24, 2010

The Next Generation: The 'big girl' corrals!

In two previous posts, we showed a cow giving birth and then the first 70 days or so of that calf's life on a dairy or calf ranch. Once they get past the first few months, they are then moved to a "big girl" corral where they can run around and intermingle with the other calves their age. These are called "running pens." The young heifers are usually grouped by their age so as to make it easier to watch them grow.

One of the jobs the farm vet performs at this stage in the heifer's life is vaccinating for Brucellosis. This is a requirement for cattle owners in the state of California. The heifers are vaccinated at four to six months of age. Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be transmitted to humans. This is why it is of extreme importance that these animals receive the vaccination. Of various types of infections, people become infected by contact with fluids from infected animals (sheep, cattle or pigs) or derived food products like unpasteurized milk and cheese. Once vaccinated, animals get a tattoo in their ear and an identification tag to show it has been properly done by an accredited veterinarian. If you would like to learn more about the disease, CLICK HERE.

Please take a minute to watch the video here that shows the farm vet vaccinating some jersey heifers on a dairy. It is quick, painless and part of the normal routine!

Here are some photos of the farm vet vaccinating cattle at a beef ranch.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Our first interview...straight from the horse's mouth!

We had our first interview about why we started this blog. The two dairy producers quoted in the article are very close to us, one a friend and one a relative! The article is on page 8 of the link below. A big thank you to Kings County Farm Bureau for this. Please read and pass it along!

Also, visit the dairy producer blogs here:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The poll doesn't lie......Royal Veterinary College!

For those of you that voted in the poll, "Which vet school did the farm vet attend?" the correct answer is The Royal Veterinary College in London, England. The correct school had the most votes!

The farm vet grew up in England and upon graduation from vet school wanted to practice in either the U.S. or Canada. He visited practices in both countries and decided he was best suited for a dairy-specific practice in California. Since then he has transitioned into mixed practice but the majority of his time is spent with cattle. No small animal, with the exception of free advice and exams for family and friends' pets. ;)

The farm vet says he's always had a love for animals, especially cows. When he was young he used to take a short-cut through some pastures on his walk to school in his village. He said this was the best part of his day, walking through the pasture and getting a chance to interact with the cows. The comfort around the animals has always come naturally to him. During his youth, the farm vet also used to help on a neighbor's dairy doing odd jobs.

Throughout college he had worked on several farms and with veterinary clinics in the UK and overseas. I believe each person has a gift for doing something. As his wife, it's been obvious the farm vet has a gift for working with animals. There is a certain confidence and ease with the way someone like him is able to handle an animal and still keep a level head to make the best decisions.

He told me this the other day, "I had a professor in college that said you have to work every day knowing that you did the best job you could, so that you can go to bed every night and sleep without worrying. You have to live by that." That is the kind of person I want to trust with the care of my animals.
 This girl had her early-morning photo shoot and a case of "bad hair day!"

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"If you decide to become a veterinary surgeon you will never grow rich but you will have a life of endless interest and variety." -James Herriot

Before I knew it I was quickly following frantic women through a labyrinth of tunnels. They were leading me to their horse which was down, or at least that was the explanation on the phone when they called in the emergency. As I came out into the circular opening of the cave-like dwelling, there lay the horse. It was in a horrible state and had dug itself into a rut thrashing while laying down. I wondered how long the horse had been there.

The two women were a mother and her grown daughter. I could feel the tension between them when I arrived. They did not give me much of an explanation about their horse. They just told me to follow them because we had to walk to get to the horse, and there I left my vet truck.

I examined the horse and it seemed to have a severe colic (twisted gut). Even if I thought there was something we could do to save the animal, I don't know how we would have moved it. The mother then proceeded to tell her daughter that she knew she should have done something about this sooner and she doesn't know what she is doing. I tried to interrupt and explain to the women that the horse did not have much longer to live and it would be the best choice to put it out of it's misery. The mother continued yelling profanities and screamed at her daughter. The daughter did not hold back and let her mom have it just the same. Confused, I turned to go to my truck to get the medical supplies I needed.

To my surprise, I did not know how to get back to my truck! Not wanting to get in the middle of the two women, I hurriedly starting zigzagging my way through the labyrinth hoping I would pop out at the correct entrance. Finally, I found my way out, got my medical supplies and weaved my way back. I returned to find the daughter, who was in her late 60's, cradling the horse's head and had her legs wrapped around the horse in an attempt to keep the horse still. She was dripping water from a bottle into its mouth. I tried explaining what I had to do and that I needed access to the horses vein, which she was lying on. The daughter asked if there was anything that could be done, "maybe if she could just have some more water?"  I explained the quality of life of the horse was very poor and became increasingly worried about the woman injuring herself by latching on to the horse.

Finally, I was able to get access to the vein and I started injecting the euthanasia solution. I suddenly became aware of what seemed to be a sort of chant going on. The mother was dancing around the horse and chanting what seemed to be some sort of spiritual tune. The horse was finally at peace so I decided it best for me to leave. I informed them on how to properly dispose of the animal and got out of there as fast as I could!

I am constantly amazed at the level of attachment humans have with horses. This story shows that being a farm vet you have to deal with just as many human personalities as animal personalities. This is one I will never forget! The quote used as the title of this story sums it up quite nicely.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Modern-Day James Herriot

Last night the farm vet received a phone call from someone that had a depressed cow with a swollen udder and a high temperature. The concerned owner said the cow was his pet. The farm vet listened to the cow's history and symptoms and went through the possibilities of what would be causing the swelling and fever. He came to the conclusion with the owner that it most likely had an E. Coli bacteria causing mastitis in the udder. The farm vet instructed the owner on what to do and how to best handle it.
Like humans, cattle can get an infection in the udder when they are lactating and this is called mastitis. The farm vet sees cases like this on modern farms and has a lot of experience in diagnosing and treating these problems. This story is a good example of whether someone owns one cow or one thousand cows, those animals are still susceptible to the same illnesses. If they are addressed and treated early the cows will have the best chance to recover and be healthy, and this is the ultimate goal.
If you have time and have not read it already, All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot, is a great "easy reading" book. I read it when I was young and went back to it and have found the stories wonderful all over again. It is set in 1937 so naturally some of the medicinal practices and techniques will have changed. The things that have not changed are the natural problems that animals encounter, proving the need for professional veterinary surgeons still today. Many of the people and problems Herriot encounters in his stories are not very different from what the farm vet encounters in his daily adventures. I appreciate Herriot's "common sense" approach to handling and caring for animals. Happy Reading!

P.S. Happy Earth Day to everyone - show your love for her! Here are some photos of the gorgeous oak trees we are fortunate enough to be surrounded by.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Next Generation: At the Calf Nursery

A piece of the the farm vet's normal routine is to go to a calf nursery (calf ranch) to check up on the general health of the calves there. This includes discussing protocols with the owner and employees, looking at the feed, walking through the calf hutches to examine the calves, and addressing any issues that may be arising. We decided to take some photos and a video at one of these facilities. The calves are kept at the nursery for about the first two months of life. Here they are watched very closely as these first two months are critical for the animal to become strong and healthy.

The style of housing for the calves in this video is common for raising dairy calves, although there are other forms of housing used. These calf hutches provide shelter for wet weather and shade from the sun. The individual stalls make individual care much easier. The hutches are elevated off the ground so animal waste can easily be cleaned from the hutches and drained to a waste storage area. They are fed milk twice a day and given a grain mixture gradually as their stomachs develop. They have water available at all times. As you can see in the picture below, they have installed rubber nipples in each hutch where the calf can get water any time it pleases!

Here is a picture of the concrete waste drainage area. 

Don't forget to check out the video of our visit! Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Farm Animals.....Not Always Pets

Being a farm vet you get to see the many types of behavior that different species, and animals within each species, display. Some of these animals never become quite like a "pet" as some people would imagine, even if they see humans on a regular basis. Therefore, different tools to help restrain animals are used when the vet needs to check an animal. One of those tools are called stanchions. The majority of dairy farms you see in this area will have stanchions in the feed lane so when the cows eat, they have the ability to lock and keep them there for managerial purposes without causing any stress or harm to the animals. This gives the vet and dairy farmer a good, up-close look at the whole animal. Here is a good picture of some cows in stanchions in the feed lane.

Another tool used on beef cattle ranches are squeeze chute. In some cases free-range cattle have not been near humans for quite some time so a chute is used to enclose the full body in order to keep the animal and humans handling it safe. Here is a photo of the farm vet with the cow in a chute in order to perform the c-section.

Check out our video on Facebook and YouTube.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A New Arrival.....

For the past few weeks after herd checks, the farm vet has been trying to find time to catch the miracle of a calf being born. This week happened to be that week! This video will kick off our first series: 'The Next Generation'. We will try to show you the stages of life of a dairy heifer as she grows into a mature cow on the dairy and has her own baby.

Every dairy farm has a "closeup" and "maternity" pen. As the names suggest, the closeup pen consists of cows and heifers who are typically within a few weeks of their due date. Most dairies have at least one individual who is dedicated to keep a close eye on these pens. On this dairy his name is Roberto. This is a job that requires a lot of training, skill, patience and care. When he identifies a cow which will soon begin labor, he moves her into the maternity pen so he can monitor her. The maternity pen is kept as clean and comfortable as possible with the tools necessary to assist with the birthing process. If he has any problems he can call the farm vet 24/7 for assistance.

As shown in the video, once the baby has entered the birth canal and strong abdominal contractions have started, the cow should give birth within 3-4 hours. In this situation, after talking to Roberto the farm vet realized this heifer had been pushing for three hours so they decided to examine her. The baby was presenting itself normally but the heifer was struggling to deliver her calf alone. The decision was made to assist with the delivery.

Chains were attached to the babies legs to aid in delivery. Chains are commonly used in this manner as the babies legs are very slippery. Properly applied and used, they cause no harm to the baby or mother whatsoever. After delivery the calf was placed on straw bedding and its umbilicus dipped in iodine to stop any infection. The mom was left to lick her baby clean and dry. The baby will be given two quarts of colostrum (the first milk from the mother, full of energy and antibodies) within six hours of birth. This is extremely important for the calf to grow to be strong and healthy.

This is truly a joyous moment marking the start of new life which is vital to the future of the dairy. It is the start of an exciting life for the new born heifer. She will encounter good and bad times just like me and you! Hopefully, in a few years she will join the herd as an adult.

Next we will follow up at the calf ranch (calf nursery) as the journey continues!

Friday, March 19, 2010

One Health: Humans and Animals

As the wife of the farm vet I work very closely with him in animal agriculture. This post is going to be about my week spent with many large animal veterinarians and animal scientists from across the nation. I attended a great conference in which the underlying theme was, "One World, One Health." This meaning, one health between animals, humans and the environment. A very good point was made to show that the veterinarian's oath summarizes this theme:

"Veterinarian's Oath: Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge. I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics. I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence."

Now think about it.....there is a direct link between the health of animals and humans, especially animals in agriculture. Even though you may not see or live near areas with animal agriculture you are affected by the health and safety of it if you consume any animal products. Veterinarians and animals scientists are constantly working to improve knowledge of diseases that affect animals and humans. It is extremely important that we continue to improve our science and knowledge for disease control and best animal care. I want to thank our veterinarians that put so much time and effort into carrying out their oath!

Unfortunately, the funding at the federal level is not extremely abundant for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct research. Here is a graph showing the funding for different government agencies to conduct research and development in the last thirty years. As you can see, the funding available to USDA has not changed much. I hope our government leaders will start to realize the importance of having funding available for research in agriculture as it directly relates to human and environmental health.

I also tagged along on an animal well-being evaluation on a dairy. This is going to be an evaluation that more and more dairy producers are doing in California. Here are a few pictures of the evaluation. I, personally, was impressed with the cleanliness of the cows and the facility. The evaluator, whom in this case was an outside veterinarian, assessed the health and welfare of the animals and provided feedback to the producer on what looked good and areas that could use some improvement. I commend these producers that will take an extra step to have a set of "new eyes" come out to look at their overall management.

Above left, the vet and the owner.
Above right, these girls had the munchies!
Left, someone getting a little sun on this beautiful CA day!