A Morning Call

A Morning Call 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I woke with a jolt and glanced at the clock. It read five in the morning. 

“Damn, did I talk with Larry and then go back to sleep,” I said aloud.

Larry Solar had a dairy out of Buckley, Washington. Unfortunately, he had received some terrible marketing from a huckster selling calcium tablets for cows.

To the ill-informed, it would almost make sense to give a cow calcium for a time before her due date to help prevent milk fever at calving. Milk fever results from the precipitous fall in blood calcium levels when milk production starts in dairy cows.

It is a bit complex, but the exact opposite is true. Cows have a tremendous reserve of calcium in their bones. The problem is that they can’t activate the mechanism to mobilize that calcium rapidly enough when they start producing milk around calving.

The best way to reduce the incidence of milk fever is to force the cow’s body to draw on her calcium reserves during late pregnancy. That way, she has little trouble mobilizing additional calcium when milk production starts.

We do this by feeding a calcium-deficient diet during the dry period. A ration that has abundant phosphorus, so the cow has to balance the calcium-phosphorus ratio by drawing on her reserves.

By following this salesman’s advice and giving his cows a daily dose of calcium for several weeks before calving, Larry’s herd had suffered an epidemic of milk fever cases. 

We had been treating many of his cows, not just once, but often for 3 mornings in a row. So it was almost a routine event during my week on call to visit Larry’s dairy every morning at three. 

Now, I’m sitting on the edge of the bed at five in the morning, wondering if I took his call at three and went back to sleep. The previous two mornings, I had been out to his place to treat one of his cows. I would expect to treat her again this morning. 

What do I do now? My first thought is to run out there, just to make sure. I turn on the light and getting dressed.

“What are you doing?” Sandy asked as she is coming aware of my movements.

“It’s five in the morning, and I’m afraid that I missed Larry’s call at three.”

“I didn’t hear the phone ring,” Sandy said.

“I don’t know what to do. I can almost remember talking with him,” I said.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to just give him a call,” Sandy said, trying to interject some reason into my early morning confusion.

“I could do that. Most of those guys have a phone in the barn,” I said. “But I don’t have that number.”

“Call information,” Sandy said as she turned over away from the light to let me know the conversation was over.

Now, half-dressed, I went out to the kitchen, so Sandy could go back to sleep. I still thought it might be easier to just run out there. I could tell him I was coming back from an early call and just wanted to stop by and check on the cow. That would work unless he talked to me at three.

I started the coffee and picked up the phone, and dialed the operator. 

When the operator answered, I said, “Information, please.”

Another operator comes on, “Information,” she says.

“Do you have a number for Larry Solar in Buckley?” I asked.

There was a pause as she looked up the number.

“Actually, there are two numbers for that listing,” the operator said.

“Does one say the barn?” I asked.

“No, there are just two numbers,” she said.

“Give me the second number,” I said. “I guess I better take both numbers, now that I think about it.”

I poured a cup of coffee and took a drink. I had to think about this a bit. I didn’t want to sound like a complete idiot. I took another long sip from the cup. I don’t understand how people can live without coffee.

I dialed the second number. It ran three times before Larry answered.

“Hello,” Larry said.

“Larry, this is Doctor Larsen. Did you call earlier?” I said.

“Nope, I didn’t call this morning, Doc,” Larry said. “That is sort of strange, I know. But the old cow is doing fine this morning.”

“Sorry to be a bother, I just woke up at five and had the feeling that I had talked to you and went back to sleep.”

“With any kind of luck, I might be getting out of this problem a bit,” Larry said. “This cow only got a couple of those pills before you guys told me to throw them in the trash. But thanks for calling and checking.”

“That’s a good sign, I guess,” I said. “My guess is that guy won’t be too welcome at your place again.”

“I have already given him an earful,” Larry said. “I think that I was not the only one to have problems, just from the way he talked.”

“I’ll let you get back to your milking, Larry,” I said. “I think I will sit here and watch the sunrise this morning while I finish my coffee.”

Photo by Oliver Augustijn on Unsplash

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.

7 thoughts on “A Morning Call

  1. I learned something new about cows and calcium metabolism here. Is milk fever seen mainly in dairy cattle who are bred for producing tremendous quantities of milk, or are beef cattle also subject to this condition?

    I agree, you were a thorough, dedicated vet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Milk fever is rarely seen in beef cows. Sometimes, in beef cows crossed with a dairy breed. Grass tetany is a problem with beef cows on lush pasture. That is a result of low potassium.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is a MERCK VETERINARY Manuel on line and as an app. Gives a pretty good initial reference to most things.

        Liked by 1 person

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