Bovine Piercing

 D. E. Larsen, DVM

Otto was sitting on a stool by the barn door when I pulled up the drive.

“Doc, I am a little surprised. You are right on time,” Otto said as I extended my hand to shake. “I thought I would have time for a little nap.”

“You know how it is, Otto,” I said. “I make every effort to stay on time. It’s just that there are always things that get in the way.”

“My bull will appreciate it,” Otto said. “He is not too happy being locked up in the old stanchion.”

“Let’s get a look at him,” I said. “The girls at the office said you wanted me to put a ring in his nose.”

“Yes, if you could put a ring in his nose, and I would like you to cut his horns off, also,” Otto said. “Nils told me you use a little wire instead of those big whackers that the old man uses.”

“See, that is one of those things that get me behind schedule,” I said with a smile. 

This was an old dairy barn with a long row of stanchions. Otto had his bull, Romeo, locked in one of these stanchions. I was expecting a young bull, but this was an older red bull. 

“This is one big bull, Otto,” I said. “Are you sure this stanchion is going to hold him?”

“He is pretty gentle,” Otto said. “And Nils said that when you did his heifers, they didn’t know anything happened to them.”

I scratched the bull on his back as I looked him over. He was trying to eat a little of the grain Otto had in front of him, but his neck was so thick, he couldn’t reach the bottom of the feed rack with the stanchion closed.

“Are you going to have enough room to work?” Otto asked.

“If you help me carry things around in front of him, I think I will be fine,” I said. “He is big enough that I won’t need to get into the feed rack. If I can get a halter onto his head, I will be okay.”

Otto had a leather halter the fit just right. It was a little tight for everyday wear, but it was going to work well for this procedure. With a lead rope attached to the halter, I tied Romeo’s head to the left. I clipped the hair around the base of the horn and applied Betadine to the area. With a syringe filled with lidocaine, I did nerve blocks around the base of his right horn. That meant I injected lidocaine at the three, six, nine, and twelve spots around the horn, like the numbers on a clock. Then I turned the head to the right and clipped and similarly blocked the left horn.

Romeo was starting to wonder what was going on when I turned his head back to the left and stretched it as tight as I could before I tied the rope. I placed a length of OB wire around the base of the right horn and glanced at Otto before I started to saw on the horn. Otto was watching every move I made with deep concentration but without saying a word so far.

“That little wire is going saw that horn off?” Otto asked.

“Yes, I think you will be impressed,” I said. “These bull horns are thick and takes a lot of work for the saw. The good thing about that is the wire gets so hot that the blood vessels are cauterized, and we probably won’t lose a drop of blood.”

I leaned back as I started with long strokes with the wire saw. It only took a moment before smoke rose from the base of the horn.

“My gosh,” Otto said. “That smells just like the old-time dentist drill.

“My thoughts, exactly,” I said as I quickened the speed of my strokes. “The good old smell of burnt bone.”

I took a deep breath when the horn finally popped off. The now tightly coiled length of OB wire was white-hot, and it sizzled when I dropped it in the bucket of water. 

“Notice, there is no blood,” I said to Otto as I motioned to the opening into the frontal sinus. 

“What do you do with that hole?” Otto asked. 

“I am going to pull these blood vessels out first, and then I will put a piece of filter paper over the hole. The paper will just be a temporary covering for a few days. This wound will heal, and the bone will cover that hole. when he is healed, Romeo will look like he was a polled bull.”

“There is no bleeding,” Otto said. “Why are you going to pull the blood vessels?”

“By pulling the vessels out, they stretch and break off deep in the tissues. That allows a secure clot to form. If I didn’t pull these, and Romeo goes out and rubs his head on a stump, he will open the vessels, and they will bleed like the devil.”

With a forceps, I grabbed the largest vessel at the six o’clock position. I pulled it until it broke off, with the vessels snapping back into the tissues, leaving about an inch of an artery in the grasp of my forceps. 

“Look at the size of this blood vessel,” I said. “This would bleed for three days if it wasn’t pulled out. When I was a kid, maybe six or seven, the decision was made to dehorn all the milk cows in the herd. They used the same guillotine type dehorner that is still in use today by some people. There was no anesthesia. The cows bellowed, some even when to their knees. They swabbed the wounds with pine tar and turned them out. Blood spurting out of both sides of their heads as they went out of the barn. Those cows bled for three days. I have no idea how much milk production was lost with that procedure. But I learned, way back then, that I would never use those dehorners.”

After pulling all the vessels on the right horn, I turned Romeo’s head back to the right and repeated the procedure. When I released his head for a moment to rest, he had a completely different appearance.

“He is going to look pretty fancy now,” Otto said. “And I didn’t notice him acting like he felt a thing.”

“Now, for the nose ring,” I said. “They told me you had your own ring.”

“Yes, I bought this ring, and the guy at the feed store said you just shove the sharp end through his nose,” Otto said. “After I talked to Nils, we decided I should get you out to do the shoving and to dehorn him at the same time.”

“Nils probably saved your life,” I said. “You try shoving the sharp end of this nose ring through Romeo’s nasal septum without any anesthesia, and you probably would have one pissed-off bull. And he is no little guy.”

“That’s just about what Nils said,” Otto said.

“Let me tie his head again, and I will show you an easy way to do this,” I said. 

I tied Romeo’s head to a center post in the barn, stretching his head straight out. Then I wiped some Betadine in his nose. I palpated the fleshy septal area and injected it with lidocaine.

“If you ever do one of these in a young bull, there is a bone in that septum if you go too far into the nose,” I said as I let Otto feel the fleshy septum in front of the bone.

“I see, now they never said a thing about that at the feed store,” Otto said.

I took my rumen trocar with a sleeve on it and shoved it through the nasal septum with only a little force. Then, removing the trocar, the hollow sleeve remained through the nasal septum.

“Let’s look at that nose ring,” I said to Otto.

These ring were made with two half circles of brass. Hooked together at one side with a hinge joint, and then the sharp piece dovetailed into the groove on the other end, and a screw secured this joint. 

I removed the screw, stuck the sharp end into the hollow trocar, and pulled it through the tissue. I closed the ring and placed the screw back into the joint. 

“How you’re all set, and Romeo thanks you for making sure everything was done with some anesthesia.”

I started to scratch Romeo’s head, and then I heard the voice of both my father and grandfather. “Never play with the head of a bull. It doesn’t matter how old he is, even a calf. You don’t play with their head.”

I cut some filter paper to cover the frontal sinus holes. I sprinkled a little antibiotic powder into the sinuses and then covered them with the filter paper, held in place with a bit of backtag cement.

We turned Romeo out and watched him as he headed back to the pasture. Acting like nothing had happened.

Photo by Павел Хлыстунов from Pixels

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.

6 thoughts on “Bovine Piercing

    1. On a small farm, a bull was one of the significant dangers. It was always considered that the tame bull was the most dangerous, because the owner would be casual when handling him. Many fatalities were considered to result from almost playful behavior by the bull. Such play could easily knock a man to the ground and the bull would finish him off by a playful mauling. The weight of the bulls head coupled with their tremendous neck muscles made them formidable weapons. In my experience, I saw only a couple of serious incidents with bulls. One told in the story on this blog, ‘Fastball Pitch in the Bull Pen’. The other was a Jersey bull borrowed from an uncle. I was fine for a time and then suddenly turned mean. He was staked out in the pasture on a chain attached to is bull ring. While changing his stake one morning, he charged my father. Dad avoided the charge and call the uncles to come get the bull. When the men arrived, 3 uncles and my grandfather (mom’s father and brothers) they were drinking coffee and deciding what to do with the bull. The uncle who owned the bull, left the table to go show everyone that there was nothing wrong with this bull. The bull quickly knocked him to the ground. Luckily, he was knocked out of the reach of the bull’s chain. That bull went to market that afternoon.

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      1. The scariest bull I ever met was an overly friendly one in with a group of heifers that I was training to eat weeds. He had been bottle raised and petted and even as a full-grown animal he thought he deserved that kind of attention. We were on the ground among the herd distributing feed tubs, and he was always right on top of me and could have knocked me down and trampled me so easily. I ended that project early for fear of being hurt.

        I’ve always had a policy with cattle I work with that I don’t treat them any differently than a colleague in the office. I don’t pet my colleagues, and I don’t pet cattle. Every “pet” cow/bull I’ve met has ended up as hamburger because they become a danger to humans.

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      2. Yes Kathy, and it happens in most species. Bottle fed male llamas are dangerous, bummer lambs often never understand that they are sheep, kittens rescued and bottle fed generally make terrible adult pets, and horses can be as dangerous as bulls. I could work on horses which were treated as horses. But those treated like pets were some of the most dangerous animals I worked with.

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  1. Two thoughts – first, I kept waiting for something bad to happen. It seemed like a scary procedure to go so smoothly. Well done. Second, it seems that a big part of being a vet is knowing how to control the animal’s movement and positioning so it holds still and no one gets hurt. Did they teach you that in school?

    Thanks for the interesting story!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As you may surmise f you read my response to Lavinia’s comment, a lot of restraint comes from a lifetime of experience. We did have instruction on restraint while in school and we had a booklet, ‘restraint in animals’, i believe. On google I see several books on restraint but they are expensive. Bulls are dangerous animals and they don’t have to be mean. They are just very powerful. I have a story that illustrates that power. On one of John’s bulls. I will wright it soon, before it slips from my memory. One thing of interest, I had an intuitive understanding of what a cow (or bull) was going to do next. I was almost untouched by a cow until I turned 40. After 40, I still knew what was coming, I just couldn’t get out of the way.

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