We killed a cow, by accident! Part 1

Last week I was in the office trying to get some work done when Vicente texted me and said we had a cow that was beginning to bloat. This isn’t common, but it isn’t unusual either. Kind of like getting a cold. It’s not any fun, but it’s not any reason to freak out.

Usually we have this issue a few times during the summer but we’d already had a case of bloat a few days before and here we go with another one. Oh well, these things happen I guess.

I keep a separate bag setup just for bloat. Despite my previous statement that it’s not an big deal, it is the leading cause of death in adult cattle and it needs to be dealt with pretty much right away or the cow will die. The site I linked to indicates that the treatment is a tube to the stomach along with some surfactant. Over the years I’ve found that this treatment rarely works, and it’s a pain in the rear for the farmer/vet and the cow. Plus it takes forever. A trocar, which they say is a terrible idea, is what we use routinely. I’ve yet to have a problem with one and it allows for the cow to go back to pasture and still have the benefits of the trocar for several days to two weeks, before it falls out on its own. We order trocars about a dozen at a time and they last us for several years.

So when Vicente texted that we had a cow bloating, I immediately replied OTW which for you folks that don’t text routinely means on the way. I hopped up and grabbed my bloat medical bag and walked down to the barn yard. A quick Gator ride over to the cows revealed a cow that was showing bloat on his belly, but otherwise appeared fine. Alert, no foam or drool from his mouth. No signs of distress. Just a cow that looked like he ate a watermelon whole and was pretending he didn’t. I rode back and started setting up a temporary corral while Vicente took the tractor back. He then helped me finish. I explained to Vicente that we’d take both Gators and use them to walk this cow down the paddock he was in, through the temporary corral, and into the barnyard where he would go into the permanent corral.

I went to close all the barnyard gates (it’s not always as smooth as I just said, sometimes they escape) and get my Gator. I came back to find the cow already in the permanent corral, waiting on me. Score one for Vicente, he’d already gotten the cow single handed and was done. Sweet!

So into the chute and into the headgate our patient goes. Once inside, it’s time to go to work. The normal procedure is to shave an area about 2″x5″ on the left side. I then inject Lidocain to numb the skin and make an incision about 3″ long. This incision goes through the skin and tissue until the rumen is revealed below.

Inserting and sewing up a trocar
Inserting a trocar. This is a different cow that was done last year.

Once that is exposed, you manually insert the trocar which quite literally screws in. Once it’s in and secure, you pull a center plug on the trocar and if it’s done correctly, you are rewarded with a big hiss of gas and a cow that deflates like a basketball. (Pro tip – If for some reason you happen to be standing there with us when we do one of these procedures, pay attention to the farmer. You’ll note that he stands upwind and out of the way. That’s experience showing folks.)

Once that is done, all we do is monitor the cow for a few minutes to see if everything appears normal. If so, he/she is returned to the pasture and we clean all the gear up. From first call to done and back in the office usually takes about an hour. Maybe less if we have extra help.

This day we were at the 20 minute mark and I was starting to shave. That means we’d probably be done in another 10 minutes. I said to myself, “Self, we are getting really good at this.”

Little did I know this one wouldn’t be routine. But that part of the story will have to wait till tomorrow.

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Dan is a dad, a husband, a business owner, a pilot, a sailor, a scuba diver, a machinist, a gunsmith, a welder, a woodworker, a day laborer, a teacher, a mentor and a writer. The short form of all the previous is he's a farmer.

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