Don’t Put Her in the Barn

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Looking around as I waited for George, it was apparent this is a well kept old ranch, probably by a perfectionist. There was nothing out of place. The barn was old, with a little bow in the roof’s ridgeline, but it had a fresh coat of bright red paint. The small white ranch house set in the middle of an immaculate yard, with a white picket fence and rose bushes galore.

The old cow in the corral looked like she had lived many years here also. She was a cow that I would have recommended culling from the herd years ago, had I been asked. Her udder anatomy had to have been an issue for many years. Her two hind teats were large and hung low, almost dragging the ground, making them almost impossible for a calf to nurse. By the time the calf nursed those teats,  the quarters would be devoid of milk. The incidence of mastitis in cows with this type of anatomy is high; virtually all of them will have problems if they live long enough. I would guess that is the problem I am going to look at today. Even though George just said a sick cow when he called.

I got out of the truck and walked over to the corral fence to look at the cow a little better. I could see George putting on his shoes on the porch of the ranch house. Here he came on a trot. 

“Hi, Doc, I’m sorry I made you wait,” George said as he extended his hand. “The Mrs. had me hanging pictures of the great-grandkids.”

“That is no problem, George,” I said as I shook his hand. “This is the end of the day, and I have plenty of time. I am betting that this is the sick cow. And I am betting that she has mastitis.”

“Your correct on both bets,” George said. “You can’t see from here, but she has a black teat on the back teat on the far side. And she is pretty sick; she stands there and doesn’t want to eat or drink. She hasn’t worried about her calf at all.”

“Did you just notice her today,” I asked. 

“She was fine yesterday,” George said. “But you know, she has been a thorn in my side every year for the last several years. I have a devil of a time getting her calf hooked up on those back teats. I know you are probably going to tell me I should have sent her down the road a long time ago. But you know, she always weans one of the best calves in the bunch. Some of these old girls earn their hole in the ground.”

“Now your right on both counts, George,” I said. “I would have told you to cull her years ago. And because she pays you for your extra efforts with a super calf every year, she probably does deserve her hole in the ground.”

“Do you think you can do anything for her?” George asked.

“Let me get a few things and get a look at her,” I said. “Do you think I need a rope?”

“She hasn’t moved a muscle in the last hour,” George said.

Her problem was easy to see when I walked around the cow. Her right hind teat was black and cold to the touch. The discoloration extended up the backside of the quarter. Here was a case of mastitis with a dead quarter. Probably an acute E. coli mastitis, the circulation is disrupted by the infection, and the tissue dies. The cow will die unless we can get the disease under control.

“I am going to have to cut this teat off, George,” I said. “And maybe open up this quarter more than just the teat.”

“Isn’t that going to bleed a lot?” George asked.

“No, this tissue is all dead,” I said. “The only chance we have of saving this cow is to get some drainage out of this quarter, put her on some antibiotics and hope for the best.”

I took a scalpel and cut the teat off. There was a lot of fluid that drained out of the quarter, and some tissue hung out of the hole. I gave a little tug to the yellowish chunk of tissue hanging out of the hole left by the missing teat. I large mass of dead mammary tissue plopped out of the hole. With my gloved finger, I was able to pull another two chunks of tissue out of the quarter. I flushed the quarter with Hydrogen Peroxide and followed with Betadine.

“I will give her some long-acting antibiotics so you won’t have to mess with her in the morning,” I said. 

After treating her, I was putting things away in the truck and explaining to George how the tissue it that quarter was dead and that more chunks would fall out of the large hole where I removed the teat.

“If you see stuff hanging out of that hole, you need to pull it on out of there,” I explained. “Otherwise, it will just block the hole, and we will lose the drainage.”

“Do you think she is going to be okay?” George asked.

“We are just going to have to see what morning gives us,” I said as I got into my truck to leave.

“Do you think I should put her in the barn tonight?” George asked.

I looked at the barn. The door on this side of the barn was open, and all I could see inside was a maze of small pens. It must have been an old sheep barn.

“If she dies, can you get her out of there easily?” I asked.

George looked at the barn and thought for a moment. “No, I don’t think I could get her out of there very easy at all,” he said.

“Don’t put her in the barn tonight,” I said as I pulled away.

The old cow did live through the night. The entire quarter fell off eventually, and it did heal up. It didn’t look good for a time. The old cow raised another calf the next year before finally finding that hole in the ground.

Photo Credit: https://www.pexels.com/@candine-dufant-2073653

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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