Sunday, May 21, 2017


The little calf that can't get up is hanging in there.

Before I give a patient report, let's do this...

In general we expect our cattle to be healthy. We spend a lot of time, effort and cash doing common sense things to ensure they stay that way. When we buy cattle we buy fit, healthy ones. When we choose to keep female calves back to develop into herd cows we pick the ones that will best fit into our system. We vaccinate all of our cattle against typical cow diseases, medicate them to eradicate parasites and fend off flies and other insects, make sure they are well fed and are supplemented with appropriate vitamins and minerals, and make sure they have easy access to fresh, clean water. We keep them outside year round -- which is the environment they are evolved and best suited for.

The type of cattle we raise are crossbred or composite cattle. This produces animals with strong heterosis or hybrid vigor. Such animals are less prone to developing genetic disorders and have strong, competent immune systems. When they happen to catch the cow version of a cold or flu bug, their immune system is able to shrug is off more quickly than an animal with less heterosis.

Starting with healthy and competent cattle, working hard to provide excellent nutrition and prevent disease, and breeding for calving ease, soundness and vigor, these are the things we do to keep our costs as low as is feasible and our profits high enough to keep the ranch cash flowing and in business.

We do see illness and injury in our cattle from time to time. When that happens we work with our vet to cure illness and heal injury to the extent possible within the constraints of economic feasibility. Profit and loss have to drive the process because we want to survive and thrive as a ranch. But we also have a very real responsibility to the livestock we own and the consumers we feed. We could cut corners and make more profit, but then we wouldn't deserve to survive and we know it.

Treating illness and injury in our cattle is always a balancing act, and it's a bit more tricky than you might imagine. The cattle can't verbalize, and as prey animals, they instinctively hide signs of illness or injury. Since they can't talk, they can't tell us how they feel or what hurts. We have to learn to pick up non-verbal indications. We end up being pretty good at it, too.

Another tricky part is that there's no "health care delivery system" for livestock. There are no hospitals or labs or financial management schemes as in human medicine. If money is no object, then yes, you can access similar resources. But money is important, and there are no insurance companies or government programs (which in human medicine are increasingly the same thing) to pick up the tab. You have to pay for those things out of your profits. On the plus side, there is none of the bureaucratic cost inflation endemic to human medicine, so prices are extremely low in comparison. On the other hand, if you spend more on health care than the animal can bring in profit, you lose money.

So you have to be ever aware your overall financial situation and have a very good idea what you can afford to spend on health care before making decisions.

And now, back to the calf in question.

She could have a congenital disorder. Unlikely, but not out of the question.

She could have sustained a permanent spinal or nerve injury. Again, unlikely but possible.

She may have had a viral or bacterial infection which caused a permanent weakness and discoordination.

In any of those three cases she will not recover.

She could have sustained a temporary spinal or nerve injury. 

She could have had a viral or bacterial infection which caused a temporary weakness and discoordination.

She could have had a profound but temporary metabolic imbalance.

She could have had a profound but temporary nutritional imbalance.

In any of these last four cases, she may recover. If she develops badly infected pressure sores or becomes septic or develops fulminant pneumonia during the recovery process, she will be extremely unlikely to survive.

At present all we can do is keep her fed and hydrated, warm and dry, and keep working with her to see if she can get up and start getting about. And that's what we're going to do.

This morning she had moved, on her own, about 10-12 feet from where I left her last night. I don't think she got up, but rather pushed herself along the ground in trying to get up. She also came a lot closer to being able to stand on her own. She's still weak and with little real coordination in the back legs, but she has made noticeable improvement since yesterday.

Only time will tell. I'm not going to get too optimistic, but she seems to be improving slightly and she's otherwise very healthy. If any calf can survive this thing this is the one.

Looking better and taking a bottle.

You're on the internet!


  1. My parents had horses. The decision to put a horse down wasn't taken lightly. We milked two to three cows in the winter and bought a few bull calves from dairy farmers for, if memory serves, $5-10 each. Holsteins, mainly. Bucket raised them and then weaned them, grazed all summer, then sold in the fall. The milkers and calves were my responsibility. Felt very fortunate none ever got sicker than scours.

    My parents always had "town jobs". Hard to make a living on 35 acres in an area with an annual snowfall of 30+ feet.
    Hurts to see our tiny ranch now turned into sports fields and houses.

    1. A good way to grow up, that's for sure. I can only imagine what it's like to see your ranch changed like that.

  2. Come on 768, you can do it! After all, you're a YouTube celebrity now.

    She does look a bit better, still alert and trying. All you can ask for I guess.

    1. James Herriot said it was always a good sign when the cow is laying down like she is in the top photo, so all is not lost.

    2. If she can just figure out how to get up...

  3. Thanks for the update.

    Paul L. Quandt

  4. I see that you are on your 'puter early in the day and making your rounds. Where else do you stop by in addition to the " Chant "?

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. The Chant is pretty much it. I used to read more blogs but my productivity suffered.