LIVERPOOL, NY — You may not hold a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine, but with a little know-how, you can treat some everyday cow illnesses on the farm, according to Greg Brickner, DVM. He presented a workshop at the 7th Annual Organic Dairy & Field Crop Conference recently.
Before taking his current position at Organic Valley, Brickner worked as a vet for 24 years in Wisconsin, mostly with dairy cattle, beef cattle and sheep. From his experience, Brickner said that many farmers can assess and begin treating common bovine ailments right on the farm.
Beginning with a physical assessment for abnormalities and blood test can go a long way towards a prompt diagnosis and speedier recovery.
A farmer drawing a blood sample from the cow himself can drop it off testing, which can save the vet time. For only $20 to $30, a sample may be tested for several issues, including calcium, phosphorus, creatine phosphokinase (CPK), blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine.
“Some cows do need additional calcium treatments, but many do not,” Brickner said. “Use boluses after the cow is standing.”
Phosphorus is a common cause of cows not rising after the first calcium treatment.
“Common phosphorus containing meds do not contain enough or the right form of phosphorus,” Brickner said. “Use sodium phosphate-containing human enema treatments.”
He said to administer the enema product mixed with sterile water or dextrose via IV.
“Cows are so heavy that where they put their weight, they can strangulate the muscle,” Brickner said. “The blood can’t flow.”
That’s how CPK enzyme levels can escalate.
“If CPK is very high, we might not be able to save her,” he said.
Of course, if the cow was injured and is still walking and standing, she’ll likely be fine. But if she’s lying and has CPK levels into the thousands, euthanasia will be necessary, as with cows with BUN and high levels of creatinine, which indicate kidney failure.
“If a cow is in acute kidney failure, we’ve no reason to treat her,” Brickner said.
Sick calves cost farmers. Dehydration can quickly claim calves, so Brickner said administering oral electrolytes can be lifesaving; however, when the calf doesn’t want to suckle anymore, it likely won’t do any good.
He discourages tube feeding milk, and said oral electrolytes should be used in addition to milk, not replacing it, to improve gut health. Colostrum is the exception, since the pre-milk fluid isn’t really milk.
“This saves a lot of calves,” Brickner said. “It’s really easy.”
To prevent issues, he recommends considering force feeding minerals, rather than relying upon voluntary intake. Farmers can use white salt to drive intake; add it to molasses or sugar mix or the grain mix; or add minerals to the TMR.
Brickner said farmers can dehorn and castrate their animals without a veterinarian if they use the right protocol. He recommends tranquilizing with an injection of xylazine/Rompun (1 cc per 100 lbs. body weight) to ensure a calm, stationary animal that won’t later associate the farmer with pain.
Injection of lidocaine in the right locations on the head will block the nerves to the horns. Inject the testicles for castration.
Administer oral pain relief. Brickner likes Dr. Paul’s Dull It, which contains St. John’s wort, white willow bark, arnica, fennel, and chamomile. Under the tongue, place 2 cc of the tincture.
Brickner said this may also be a good time to apply ear tags or perform any other procedures. Once they’re complete, tolazoline (1 cc per 100 lbs. animal weight quickly reverses the effect of the tranquilizer.
Organic producers must hold the meat for eight days for xylazine and 90 days for lidocaine.
The Organic Dairy & Field Crop Conference is an annual presentation of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.