Under the Old Plum Tree

D. E. Larsen, DVM

It was almost midnight in the early fall of 1977 when Lloyd called with a sick cow. 

“The boys say she has been eating plums. She seems to be pretty sick, Doc. Do you think she will be OK till morning?” He asked, obviously quite worried about his favorite cow.

“How many plums do you think she ate, Lloyd?” I inquired, hoping I could justify rolling over to go back to sleep.

“The boys say she was under that tree all afternoon, and there are plums all over the ground. The limbs are hanging pretty heavy with them,” Lloyd replies.

“It’ll take me a little while, but I will be there shortly,” I say as I throw my legs out of bed and start looking for my clothes.

Lloyd is a tall thin, soft-spoken man with a thick mustache and thinning hair. I have only been to his ranch once before, but I have seen Lloyd and his dog at the clinic several times.

I turned onto Scott Mountain road and passed Ayer’s driveway. It’s well past midnight as I wind up Scott Mountain road. It doesn’t take long, and I break into the open fields of Pat’s place. The moon is full, and the crisp autumn night is still. The stars are bright, and the sky is very striking out here, far removed from the city lights. 

As I enter the timber starting down the backside of Scott Mountain, a bobcat suddenly is surprised by my headlights in the middle of the road. He runs helter-skelter ahead of me down the mountain road. With high banks on both sides of the road, he runs headlong, looking for an escape from the glare of my headlights. It’s unusual to see a bobcat on the road, and I’m a little surprised at the speed he is traveling. The road suddenly opens again, and he darts into the brush on the right of the road.  

Lloyd and his son are waiting for me at the door of a small barn next to the road. A very miserable cow is standing in the milking stall of the shed. She is not in a stanchion, which is probably a good thing because there is a possibility of her falling.

The old Jersey stood head down, was not wanting to move. The left side of her abdomen quite distended with gas. I didn’t need a rope or halter to handle her, she is miserable enough that she doesn’t want to move.  

I slide through the gate and start doing an exam. Her temperature is normal, and her chest sounds are normal. When I got to her belly, her rumen distended and is hardly moving. Then I start a rectal exam, Standing on her right side, I begin to insert my gloved left hand into her rectum. She has a major blowout of watery diarrhea, just missing me.

“That was close,” I say. “Has she had that diarrhea for awhile?”

“No, she has been fine until tonight,” Lloyd said. “The boys say that she was eating plums all afternoon, out under the old plum tree we have out on the hillside. Most of the time, that tree doesn’t have much fruit, but this year it’s loaded.”

Using a Frick Speculum, a metal tube to keep the cows teeth from chomping on the stomach tube, I pass my large rubber stomach tube into her rumen, the first stomach of cows. I blow a deep breath of air into the tube to clear the tube of obstructing rumen content. I pull the tube from my mouth and point it away from me. The rumen gas fills the small shed. The smell of fermented plums is overwhelming. The old Jersey feels better with the relief of the gas. I pump a gallon of mineral oil into the rumen. This is to aid in the passage of the plums through the gut. Then I pump in a gallon of warm water with a pound of Carmalax powder dissolved in it. Carmalax is an antacid, laxative, and rumen stimulant all rolled into one.

“She’ll be fine, Lloyd. But you probably don’t want to be caught standing behind her in the morning,” I say, smiling as I begin putting things away in the truck.

What a beautiful drive home with the full moon.  I enjoyed the night. I didn’t see the bobcat again, even though I looked closely along the edge of the road where I had last seen him. He probably would not make the mistake of being seen on the road again for a long time. It was going to feel good to get back to a warm bed and snuggle close to Sandy.

When I called Lloyd the next day, the cow was doing great.

“I see what you meant last night,” Lloyd said, “She sort of plastered the walls of the shed during the night.”

Photo Credit: Photo by Ivanna Kykla from Pexels.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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