For the Want of a Few Pounds

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“Here comes Pete again,” Don said. “I think I will let you talk with him today. He just about talked my leg off yesterday.”

“What does he have going on?” I asked.

“He got a bunch of new feeder steers,” Don said. “He has been studying up on Ralgo, that new growth implant for pasture steers. He can’t decide if he wants to use it or not.”

Don faded into the back of the clinic as Pete got out of his car. Pete was an airline pilot and had a small hobby ranch on the edge of Enumclaw.  Like most of the pilots around, their house was enormous and elaborate. The farm was something that could be featured on the cover of a magazine. They all had more dollars than sense.

“Is Don around this afternoon?” Pete asked as he came through the door. 

“He is busy in the back,” I said. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“I was talking with him about using Ralgro and this new batch of steers I picked up,” Pete said. “I have been reading a lot, I just have a few questions.”

“Ralgro is pretty new, I don’t think we have anybody who has used it,” I said. “If you have been reading a lot, you probably know more than either Don or me. We have read some on it.  And we had a salesman in with his pitch on it.  It might be something useful for some of our clients. Your pastures look pretty good. It might be something that will give you a significant increase in weight gain.”

“How much of a weight boost do you think I would get?” Pete asked. 

“I think they are talking about 4% to 8% over a 120-day pasture cycle,” I said. “That means if you are feeding steers for 120 days, or 4 months, that start out at 450 pounds, and you normally finish them at 800 pounds. You could expect them to finish at 814 to 828 pounds. If you figure the cost of the implant is covered by a pound or two, that is a significant boost in profits.”

“What are the downsides,” Pete asked.

“Not many, besides the labor involved in working the steers and doing the implants,” I said. “It is a piece of cake after you do one or two. Ralgro is a synthetic estrogen, so there is some chance of getting into some behavioral stuff. Still, it is my understanding that is not much of an issue in a group of steers.”

“So, I think I will go ahead and do the implants,” Pete said. “Is that something you can order for me?”

“I think we got a shipment in yesterday,” I said. “I can set you up and go over the procedure with you if you would like.”

I got a package set out for Pete and went over the injection technique for doing the implant. Then I went over the package insert with him. I pointed out the few possible complications. At the bottom of the insert, I pointed to the withdrawal period before slaughter. At that time, there was a 60-day withdrawal. That meant that once implanted, the steer was not eligible for slaughter for 60 days.

“That means, if one of them gets caught in the fence and breaks a leg, you won’t be able to salvage him,” I said.

“I have a crew lined up for Saturday,” Pete said. “I will let you guys know how it goes. Tell Don that I appreciated his input also.”

The following week, I drove by Pete’s place and admired a dozen steers he had in his pasture. A picture-perfect field and these steers were knee-high in the grass. They were a pretty sight.

And then came the April shower. It was not much of a rainstorm. It was more of a heavy mist that filled the air all morning. It was a miserable morning to be out working. Too wet for a light jacket and too warm for rain gear. Don and I were both back in the office after doing our morning calls when the phone rang. It was Pete.

“I think they are all dead,” Pete cried into the phone. “Can somebody come out and give me a hand.”

Don and I jumped in Don’s truck and made the short drive out to Pete’s place. It looked like half the town was there. We pulled into the barnyard, and then we could see the pasture. Pete was correct. It looked like all the steers were dead. 

We jumped out and ran out to the pasture. Going from one to the other. Every steer was dead. Dead from bloat, several had green foam bubbling from their nostrils.

I walked through the pasture, kicking up the grass that was weighed down with morning mist. This pasture must have about 50% white clover in the deeper levels of the grass. Wet white clover was a perfect recipe for frothy bloat.

“My wife’s folks came in last night,” Pete was telling Don. “I came out and turned out the steers, and then we went to Auburn for breakfast.

When we got back, they were all dead. Never in my wildest dreams would I expect this. What do you think happened?”

“This mist wet everything down, and you have a lush pasture that is about 50% white clover,” I said. “That is a perfect recipe for frothy bloat. Had you been here and recognized the first one or two to go down, we maybe could have saved some of them. But once you get this many involved, it is a losing ball game.”

“Can I make hamburger out of them?” Pete asked. 

“It is always a little risk to eat a dead cow,” Don said.

“This is no different than shooting an elk,” Pete said. “Sometimes, it takes a couple of hours before you can dress them out.”

“That true, and with bloat, it probably would be okay,” I said. “But the other problem is you implanted these guys last week with Ralgro. Remember, it has a withdrawal time.”

“That’s right, so I guess it is just a loss,” Pete said. “What a waste. I guess it might help with my taxes.”

Photo by Kat Jayne 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.

3 thoughts on “For the Want of a Few Pounds

    1. Like many hobby farmer, Pete was working in memories of his Grandfather’s farm. He had none of the knowledge his Grandfather spent a lifetime acquiring and limited tome to work the farm.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am quite astonished Pete never had heard about clover and problems. I have, and I only lived in the countryside, never on a farm. I think it was either themed in Black Beauty, a British horse series, or in the James Herriot series. But then America and its big farms have a different approach to livestock, anyway.

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