The Shock of it All

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Ag had called, “We have a cow with a prolapsed uterus out in the calving pasture. Alice and I are going to bring her into the barnyard. Can you come out and get a look at her?”

     I glanced at the clock, it was almost midnight. I thought to myself, “Ranchers must never sleep during calving season.”

     I could see the cow in my headlights as I pulled into the barnyard. Standing with Ag and Alice on each side of her, she was still a hundred yards out in the field.

      I opened the gate and pulled out into the field. I stopped and closed the gate before driving out to where the cow was standing. I left the lights on when I got out of the truck.

This cow, a large Charolais, was either very tame or very sick. She did not flinch when I pulled up in front of her in the truck.

“I think she has decided this is as far as she is going to go,” Ag said as I stepped out of the truck.

I could see her uterus hanging out of her, almost reaching the ground. This was always a bad sign. These cows, who have lost all inner attachments of the uterus, had a poor prognosis in my experience. I assumed that to be from the rupture of the ovarian vessels and blood loss. Even when I replaced these uteruses, over half of these cows would die.

“That uterus looks like bad news to me,” I said. “Let me get a look at her before we start on putting things back together.”

“She walked to this point pretty well,” Alice said. “But then she just stopped. We have been standing here for 15 minutes before you got here.”

     I lifted her muzzle so I could look at her oral membranes in the lights. She was ghost white. 

“I think this cow is going to drop dead any minute now,” I said. “That uterus has lost all its ligament attachments and is hanging out full length. She is probably bleeding inside.”

“Let’s try to hamburger her,” Ag said, looking at Alice.

“I’m willing to help,” Alice said. “If we get her gutted tonight, we can get Chuck out here in the morning with his mobile slaughter truck.”

Both these ladies were in the 60s, Alice probably older. It is past midnight, and they are talking about butchering a 1500 pound cow like it is just a small chore.

“What do you think, Doc?” Ag asked.

“I think it might be marginal, but the USDA says that a cow is fit for slaughter if she has passed her fetal membranes,” I said. “This is a lot of hamburger, if the meat is no good, you can probably determine that before you process it. That way, you are only out the slaughter cost. And in this case, maybe just an extra hour of work.”

“I will go get the tractor with the frontend loader,” Ag said as she started toward the barn. “I guess you can go, Doc.”

“Actually, I think I will stay and give you gals a hand,” I said. “I am a little interested in what she looks like inside.”

About the time Ag returned with the tractor, the cow collapsed. Alice cut her throat, shackled her hocks, and lifted her off the ground with the tractor’s loader. Then the work started. My headlights provided ample light, and they both worked with practiced repetition. 

When the abdomen was opened, I expected to find a significant amount of blood. There was none. I looked at the ovarian vessels. The ovarian ligaments were ruptured, but the vessels were intact. My thinking that these stretched out uterine prolapses resulted in substantial blood loss was just wrong. This cow died from shock.

This would change my approach to treating these cases. It is not always possible to give these cows a large volume of fluids out in a distant pasture in the middle of the night. Like in this case, many are probably too far gone by the time I get to them. But for some, a good dose of Dexamethasone and a bottle of Glucose or Calcium might be enough to do the trick.

I called in the morning, just to check with Ag on the status of the carcass. My guess was that saving 500 pounds of hamburger would not be as appealing after a night’s sleep and clearer thinking.

“What did Chuck think of the cow?” I asked.

“We didn’t even call him,” Ag said. “Things just didn’t smell right this morning. It was a good thought last night, but not so much now.”

“That is probably the best,” I said. “It would be one thing if you were starving to death, but when we have access to the world’s best meat supply, there is little benefit in trying to salvage marginal meat.”

“That is just about what Alice said,” Ag said. “She wasn’t hungry enough to want it.”

“There was some good to come out of last night,” I said. “I have always felt some of these cows died from blood loss. But there wasn’t a drop of blood in that belly last night. She died from shock. That will change the way I treat these cows with a massive prolapse. I will treat them for shock first, then worry about the prolapse. That is how we learn things, that is why they call it practice.”

“Now, I just have to get the rendering truck out here before the dogs get into that gut pile,” Ag said.

“That would be good. Otherwise, I will see a sick dog or two for you,” I said.

Photo Credit:

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.

2 thoughts on “The Shock of it All

  1. Interesting story and also interesting that you used dexamethasone (sp?). It was mentioned yesterday in the Covid19 news as being used in a British study of drugs to treat the virus. It’s found to be beneficial, but I forget the details of when and for whom. Just interesting that a drug that’s been around forever is popping up as useful against Rona.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Dexamethasone was a mainstay in veterinary medicine my entire career. The saying in school was “no patient should die without the benefits of steroids,” which meant Dexamethasone, in most cases. There was an opinion (I cannot come up with a reference right now) that cows with pneumonia, would have a higher incidence of relapse if treated with Dexamethasone.
      I cannot pull a case off the top of my head right now where it served as a lifesaving miracle drug, but I am sure they are there. I will have the write a story about it.

      Liked by 1 person

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