D. E. Larsen, DVM
I could see Bill and the hired man bringing the cow down from the upper pasture as I pulled up to the squeeze chute. This cow had a dead calf this morning. Bill was unsure what went on, but he was just starting into the calving season and wanted to make sure he didn’t have a problem.
“She looks like she is in good shape,” I said, as they ran the cow down to the squeeze chute. “Do you have any idea when she was due.”
“I told May Jane that you were going to chew me out for not have had the herd preg checked this year,” Bill said. “The calf looks pretty good size, I would guess she was near full term.”
“I am going to take the tractor back up there and get the calf,” the hired man said as he started up the tractor.
“We just want to make sure we don’t have a problem that is going to go through the herd,” Bill said.
“I will draw some blood for this cow and from her dead calf if I can. And I will get a sample of her afterbirth from a cotyledon and samples from the calf. The lab will be able to give us a pretty accurate diagnosis is it is something important. But, a lot of the time, maybe I should say most of the time, they won’t have an answer.”
“Mary Jane wants you to get us on your schedule to do some pregnancy exams this fall,” Bill said as I was finishing up with the sample collection from the cow.
“That will be good, I have a sheet of recommendations on breeding times and when we should do the exams,” I say. “It is good to try to get your calving season down to 40 days or less. It takes a few years to get there for most herds, but you will enjoy life better once we make it.”
“I wonder what is taking Don so long to get that calf?” Bill said. “It is only halfway up the field, he should have been back here a long time ago.”
Bill had no more than uttered the words when the tractor came into view. He had the calf in the front end loader.
“I got up there, and the calf was gone,” Don said. “I looked all over and finally found it up at the top of the field, on the other side of the fence. And you need to take a look at this.”
Don pulled the calf out of the loader and stretched it out on its back. This calf had a half dozen large chomps along the margin of the rib cage that opened the abdomen. The entire liver was gone.
“What the heck do you suppose did that to this calf?” Bill said.
“A cougar did this,” I said. “Look at the size of these chomps along the ribs.” I placed my fingertips along the width of the bite marks, spreading them wide enough to cover each bite mark. “This was a large cat, look at the size of these bites.”
“Yes, large enough to pick this calf up and haul it over 100 yards up the hill and carry it across the fence,” Don said.
“It is 11:00 in the morning, and that field is right beside the county road,” Bill said. “This cat situation is getting a little scary.”
“When I first came to Sweet Home, I seldom heard a story of a cougar,” I said. “Now I hear stories almost every week. When they stopped hunting them with dogs, it changed the cat’s behavior. Even the hound guys tell me that their behavior has changed. Their dogs get tore up by cougars if they corner them. When they were hunting them, they would run to a tree. The cats have lost any fear of man and most of their fear of dogs.
“They see cougars downtown all the time nowadays,” Don said.
“Several things have happened,” I said. “The environments will say we are invading the cat’s territory, but with all the land use laws, things have not expanded around most towns in Western Oregon. What has happened, is the National Forest has stopped most timber harvest. So now there are few clear cuts in the high country. Clear cuts are were all the production happens. All the logging has moved to private lands, most of those lands are located closer to towns. The deer and elk need a lot of browse, and they don’t get in the timber, so they move to where the clear cuts are located. The cats follow their primary food sources. With not much hunting, the cat population expands, and they tend to end up in town once in a while. They find hunting cats and dogs pretty easy living. Encounters are only going to get more frequent as time goes on.”
“What can a person do to change things?” Bill asked.
“Probably not much, a lot of people are champions for the cat,” I said. “Hunting without dogs does very little to control their population. They can be right beside you in the brush and you will never see them. Don was probably lucky this cat didn’t want to argue over who owned this calf.”
“I never thought about that,” Don said. “He probably was not far away when I took it.”
“I had a client tell me a story not long ago,” I said. “His dog was very mean. One of those dogs that I see only to get a rabies shot into every 3 years. This dog is so mean that he bites the owner more than once in a while. This guy was telling me he was walking along a cat road through some small timber with his dog on a leash. The dog started throwing a fit, enough that the guy thought he was going to get bit. He turned the dog loose, it jumps in the brush, right beside them, and kicks out a cougar.”
“The state is quick to use dogs if there is a problem cat somewhere,” Don said.
“Nothing will change until a cat drags some kid out of a schoolyard someday,” Bill said.
“I better get some samples from this calf. The liver is a pretty important sample that the lab asks for, they probably won’t believe me when I tell them that a cat beat me to it.”