Can We Eat Her?

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“Bart, it’s good to see you. Do you need to talk with Debbie?” I asked.

“If she is busy, that’s okay. I can wait. I just wanted to tell her we would be gone by the time she gets home. We will have dinner ready for her and Lisa. She is just going to have to pop it in the oven.”

“I’ll send her out. They are just cleaning things up a bit,” I said.

“While I’m here, Doc, I have a cow that is laying around a lot. She looks fine, but she has hardly moved in the last few days. I can’t do it tonight, but is there some time in the late afternoon that I could get you to look at her.”

“I could get up there tomorrow. What time do you get home?”

“I can make sure that I’m home by three. It’s easy for me to skip the last load of logs on Friday. Do you know where we are located?”

“I know you are on Whiskey Butte. But I can solve the problem. I will just have Debbie lead the way. I can make it an end-of-the-day call. She will like to leave the clean-up for the others.”

“She’ll like that. She really appreciates this job, Doc.”


It was close to four by the time we pulled into the pasture with the cow. It was almost a half-mile up the road from the house. The cow, an older Hereford, was lying down when we approached. She stood up but was reluctant to walk away.

I was able to examine her with no restraint. She had a moderately elevated temperature, but otherwise, the exam was pretty unremarkable. I palpated her ventral abdomen with some deep pushes, checking for pain from a wire. There was no response. Putting downward pressure at the middle of her back caused a definite groan. I waited a moment and then repeated the maneuver. She swung her head at me this time to emphasize her discomfort.

“Her back is pretty painful,” I said. “It’s hard to say what she did. It could be just soft tissue stuff, or she could have broken something.”

“What can we do about it?” Bart asked.

“We aren’t going to do an x-ray. I can give her a dose of Banamine and see if that helps.”

“What does that do?”

“It’s like a big dose of ibuprofen, just an anti-inflammatory medication. If that doesn’t do it, I don’t know. She might be salvageable if that temperature goes down.”


I was trying to close down the clinic a little early on Saturday morning when the phone rang.

“Doc, this is Bart. That cow is down and can’t get up. What do you think?”

“I’m not sure there is anything more I can do for her?” I said. “But I can run up and get a quick look at her. We are slow here this morning.”

“I don’t want to impose on your free time if there isn’t anything to be done.”

“That’s fine, Bart. We don’t have any plans for the afternoon, and it won’t take me much time to get a quick look.”

“Why don’t you take your time and have lunch. Then bring Sandy and the kids up for the afternoon. We can barbecue dinner, and the kids can swim in the pool if the sun stays out. We haven’t turned the heater on yet this spring.”

“Okay, but this might not turn out very favorably for the cow. I don’t want to ruin your afternoon with bad news.”

“I’m a big boy, Doc. I’ve shot a cow or two before. If that’s what we have to do, I can deal with it.”


The cow was down. With a slap on the rear, she wouldn’t even try to stand. The temperature was improved, just slightly above average.

“I think she has had it, Bart,” I said. “She is pretty painful. It might be best to get your rifle.”

“Do you think we could eat her?” Bart asked.

“Eat her? My first answer is no, she can’t stand and has a temperature plus some Banamine on board. But, I guess it depends on how hungry you are. The meat isn’t going to kill you. It’s just not going to be very good. She has been stressed, down, probably has a significant injury. All of that is going to influence the flavor of the meat. Sort of like eating a gutshot deer that took you a day or to find.”

“That’s a whole lot of hamburger laying there. I think we will go ahead and butcher her out and see if it is any good.”

“Late Saturday afternoon, you’re probably not going to be able to get a mobile slaughter out this afternoon.”

“I’ll get the tractor out. It has the front-end loader attached. I can hang her here and have Daryl come pick her up in the morning.”

“Okay, if you’re going to do it, I will give you a hand. I sort of want to get a look at her back anyway.”

Bart retrieved his tractor and his rifle. 

Sandy and Marilyn busied themselves, getting ready for dinner and watching the kids, and we shot the cow.

It didn’t take long before we had the carcass hanging from the tractor’s elevated front-end loader. Bart was working on skinning the cow, and I examined the inside of the carcass. 

There was an odd swelling on the underside of the backbone on the inside of the carcass.

“It looks like she must have had a significant injury to her back,” I said as Bart looked over my shoulder. I point to the swelling with the knife I had in my hand.

Bart when back to work. He was almost done with getting the hide off the carcass. I reached up and ran my knife down the underside of the spine on the midline.

When my knife sliced through the swelling, it exploded. Spraying my face and beard with thick slightly yellow pus.

“The diagnosis is a spinal abscess, Bart,” I said. “I don’t think you want to eat this cow.”

Bart stepped around from behind the carcass and stifled a laugh.

“You’re quite a sight,” Bart said. “I think you’re going to have to borrow our shower.”

“Look at the hole where that puss came from,” I said. “She must have fractured a vertebra, and then it abscessed. I saw a dog once with similar lesions, but I have never seen anything like that in the cow.”

“I guess I’ll just leave her hanging here and call Daryl and see if he wants to pick her up in the morning. He can send her to the rendering company. That way, Marilyn won’t have to mess with it.”

It was a long walk to the house with a beard full of pus. At least Bart had a shower I could borrow. I offered Sandy a peck on the cheek, but she declined.

It was a good dinner and good conversation, so the entire evening was not a bust.

Photo by Alesia Kozik 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.

One thought on “Can We Eat Her?

  1. Those abscesses seem like they can be under quite a bit of pressure. I remember you writing about some advice you got early on from an older vet about working with one’s mouth closed. Good advice!

    Liked by 2 people

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