Ergot Foot

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Perry was busy loading a large log onto his portable sawmill when I pulled through the gate. I stopped and closed and gate and then sat in the truck to watch his operation for a few minutes.

I could see the young cow standing off to the side of the activity. It did not appear that she was interested in moving much.

Perry had a stack of large logs, most of them about four feet in diameter. They didn’t look like prime logs, but the lumber he had stacked nearby seemed pretty good.

After he had the log positioned, Perry turned off his loader and walked over to the truck.

“This is quite an operation,” I said as I extended my hand.

“Oh, it’s just a sideline to help pay for the cows,” Perry said. “I buy a bunch of cull logs when I can. I get them dirt cheap for chip prices. I find quite a bit of good wood them. I can do that because I have the time that the mills don’t. Anyway, I get the good wood and then send the rest of the stuff down the road to the chipper. I usually come out pretty good. If you have some time, I will show how this little mill works after we take care of this little cow.”

We walked over to the cow. I brought my rope, even though Perry acted like it wasn’t going to be needed.

“I have to really work to make this gal take a step,” Perry said. “She has one heck of a sore foot on her right hind.” 

The cow didn’t budge when I stuck a thermometer in her rear end. I looked her over and listened to her chest. Her temperature was up a little, and her pulse was elevated. Everything else looked okay. 

I knelt down and looked at her sore foot close. There was an obvious line of demarcation that ran around her foot above the hoof. The skin below the line was hard and leather-like. I stood up and checked the tip of her tail. It was also dry and cracked. I think it would have come off in my hand if I had given it a little tug.

“What do you think, Doc?” Perry asked.

“I think this is Ergot Foot,” I said. “Where have you been keeping her?”

“I brought her a three other over from my place up the Calapooia River,” Perry said. “They in the pasture below the barn, it was pretty tall, and I couldn’t make hay out of it this year. So I figured I would get some use out of the grass.”

“So it was tall and headed out when you put on the pasture?” I asked.

“Yes, but the others are all okay at this point,” Perry said.

“This is caused by a fungus that grows on seed heads,” I said. “You need to move the others off of this pasture, probably put them back at your place.”

“What about this girl?” Perry said. “Is there anything we can do for her?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “The end of her tail is going to fall off any minute, and her hooves will slough on this foot in a short time. She is not going to recover.”

“Can I send her to slaughter?” Perry asked.

“To be honest, I don’t know for sure,” I said. “But my guess is they will tank her. The only way to know is to send her to an inspected slaughter and let the veterinarian there make the decision.”

“If it is that questionable, I will just take care of her myself,” Perry said. “There is no sense of loading her onto a truck and haul her off. It is too painful for her to take a step on level ground.”

“Yes, that’ll be best,” I said. “Then you need to get the others off the pasture, and you should probably clip that pasture down. Don’t make hay with it unless you get it checked by the extension agent. I would just clip it this year and pasture it next year, so it is eaten down before it heads out. The fungus grows in the seed heads.”

“Okay, that’s done,” Perry said. “Not good news for this girl, but this farming business is one of those things that you have to learn something new all the time. Come on over here, and I will show you how this little sawmill works. This keeps me busy. I can’t stand to just sit around and watch the calves grow.”

Perry’s sawmill was a small, free-standing little mill. But it was not one of those cheap ones. Perry would load a log onto the carriage and set the dimensions that he wanted. It had both a horizontal saw and multiple vertical saws. So, with one pass along the log, it would make on horizontal cut about twelve inches deep. At the same time, if he was cutting two-inch boards, it would make six vertical cuts two inches apart. That would give six boards, however wide the horizontal cut was made.

“I cut up one of these logs in a couple of hours,” Perry said. “If I hired a couple of young guys to pull green chain, I could do it faster. I save the good boards and the others I throw in the slag pile. I send the slag pile and the sawdust to the chipper place. That just about pays for the log, and the lumber is pure profit.”

“I have seen some cheap portable mills, but this one looks pretty sophisticated,” I said.

“Yes, sophisticated and expensive,” Perry said. “But, with the profit margin on this lumber, I paid for this mill in the first month. A man with a crew could make some real money doing this, as long as the price of chip logs stays low and the lumber’s price is high. That part of things is sort of like the cattle market. You never know what next spring will bring.”

Photo by James Wheeler 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.

4 thoughts on “Ergot Foot

  1. That cow must have been in quite a bit of agony. Is ergot foot also seen in deer and elk, or is is mainly seen livestock who are confined to an area and don’t have a choice in the feed?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It seems, that Mutterkorn, as we here call it, has been bred out more and more from cereals. But on pastures that won’t help much. I read on Wikipedia only two ways to ‘treat’ pastures: what you recommended: early mowing. And pesticides . Theclatter is not ideal for pastures of which you want to feed your cattle. In cereal they have some more possibilities. We aren’t that much further, sadly.

        Liked by 1 person

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