Wooden Tongue

 D. E. Larsen, DVM

The old cow was in the middle of the corral as I pulled up. Her head was extended, and her tongue protruded a bit from her open mouth. Saliva hung from her mouth in long, thick streams that nearly reached the ground.

I stepped out of the truck, pulled on a pair of coveralls, and slipped on my overboots. I could see Ed coming out of the house and heading for the corral at a trot.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Doc,” Ed said as he approached the truck. He was breathing a little hard, and I noted a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket. “I don’t know what the heck is wrong with this old gal, but I noticed her having trouble eating a few days ago, and I’m not sure she can drink today. She stands at the water trough with her nose down in the water.”

“Sounds like we need to look at her,” I said. “I will grab my rope and see if I can throw it this morning.”

I chuckled under my breath. It always amazed me how the guy that would apologize for making me wait half a minute while he trotted out of the house was the same guy who never had the cow waiting at the chute or tied in the corral.

I was learning a bit. I made a mistake early in my tenure here in Sweet Home by displaying my skill with a rope. Now I always tried to look awkward in handling the rope, and I made sure I missed the cow several times before landing a good catch.

Since the gate was at the far end of the corral, I crawled over the top rail of the corral with my rope in hand. I just hoped that Ed could hand things over the fence, or I would be getting plenty of exercise this morning.

The cow didn’t move, I could probably just place the rope around her neck, but I wanted Ed to see how much difficulty I could have throwing the rope. I stood back from the cow and threw a loop at her neck. The rope plowed into the side of her neck with a thud. The cow never moved.

I gathered the rope and threw another loop that missed her all together. I figured that was enough of a display for Ed. I walked up to the cow, placed the rope around her neck, and fashioned a halter. Again, the cow never moved.

“I think you probably need a little practice throwing that rope, Doc,” Ed said.

“Roping is really not in my job description, Ed,” I said. “You could save a lot of time for yourself and me by upgrading this corral with a squeeze chute.”

“That is a lot of expense, Doc,” Ed said. “I have just never been able to justify it.”

“My brother-in-law always says that if he had to do it over again, he would have bought the squeeze chute before he bought his first cow,” I said. “And really, you don’t have to have a squeeze chute. I can help you with the design. You can do wonders with just a crowding alley and a headgate. That would save you the expense of a chute. In fact, if you’re a good carpenter, you can build a headgate. Just make a good stanchion on a gate that opens at the front of the alley. It is a little cumbersome, but it can work if the expense is a big item.”

“I’ll give it some thought, Doc,” Ed said.

That was cryptic for I think it is BS.

“I think I could look at this cow without a rope,” I said. “She is pretty distressed. I think she is just going to stand right here. Can you hand me that bucket of water and that black bag on the truck tail gait?”

I plugged in a thermometer and clipped its lanyard to the hair on top of her tail, and she had no problem with that procedure. But when I got to her mouth, she objected, shook her head, and moved away from me a few steps.

“Looks like she wants to be tied up,” I said as I led her to the nears post and tied her short.

When I grabbed her swollen tongue, it was hard. With my fingers putting pressure on the roof of her mouth, I held her mouth open and explored the base of the tongue with my fingers. There was no foreign body and no apparent injury.

I allowed the cow to relax. Her temperature was a little elevated, but otherwise, she looked okay.

I washed my hands vigorously with Betadine surgical scrub.

“What do you think is wrong with her, Doc?” Ed asked.

“She has Wooden Tongue,” I said. “I’ll give her an IV injection of sodium iodide, which should take care of it. Sometimes we need to repeat the injection in a week.”

“How do you suppose she got it?” Ed asked. “I ain’t never seen anything like this before.”

“It is caused by a bacteria, and Actinobacillus is the name,” I said. “It is probably around in the environment and just pops up once in a while. It gets into the tongue through an injury, often just a small puncture from course feed. But we usually can’t define a source.”

“I know a guy in Crawfordsville who lost a bunch of bone on the side of his face to an Actino bug of some type,” Ed said.

“Yes, I know the guy,” I said. “His case was a little different and probably a lot more serious. It was Actinomycosis that caused his problem. Similar names, but Actinomycosis invades the bone, and it is more difficult to treat. That is probably why he lost a lot of bone on the side of his face. He said the doctors told him he probably got it from chewing on a stem of grass. Who knows?”

I retrieved a bottle of sodium iodide from my bag and attached an IV set to it. I placed a fourteen gauge, two-inch needle into her jugular vein and hooked the IV set to the needle. The infusion only took a couple of minutes.

“I will give you a call in a couple of days, Ed,” I said. “She should be mostly normal in forty-eight hours. If that is not the case, we will need to give her some other antibiotics. Then, next week, we will decide if she needs another one of these infusions.”

“Do you think I should keep her up?” Ed asked.

“I would keep here until I talk with you in a couple of days,” I said. “Just in case we have to give her something else. Just have some good grass hay and maybe a little grain for her. I would guess she will be noticeably improved by morning.”

I untied the cow and handed my things across the fence to Ed. Then I crawled over the rails. 

I got out of my coverall and boots and washed my hands again.

“Okay, I’ll call in a couple of days,” I said. “You call if she is not improved in the morning. And Ed, do call and set up a time for me to go over your corral system. There is no charge for me doing that, and you can always ignore it if the plans don’t work for you.”


The old cow was back to normal when I called Ed in two days. And I just stopped by and talked with Ed as we looked at her in the pasture two weeks later.

And, true to form, Ed never did come by the clinic to discuss his corral system.

Photo by freestocks.org 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.

2 thoughts on “Wooden Tongue

  1. As the economics of the cattle business became continuously more difficult over the past 50 years or so, I see fewer and fewer operations like good old Ed’s. In fact, there are virtually no back yard herds left in this part of the world. And from an animal welfare standpoint, I think that’s probably a fine thing. If people can’t provide safety and security for their animals through proper fencing, facilities, etc., well, maybe they shouldn’t have them. And I guess the veterinarian world agrees, has I am fairly certain you will not find a vet in Linn County that would rope and throw a cow for treatment.

    And so, a question: do you miss those good old days?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So you probably remember the attempt to look at a foot on that big Charolais bull. We lashed him to the corral fence and then I tried to pull hind leg up with a rope dallied to a post. And then he just walked away. A good hydraulic chute that would lay him over would have been nice then, (I have to write that story one day). But yes, I sort of enjoyed those days.

      Liked by 1 person

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