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.