Caring for Livestock Injuries, Preventing Rabies, and More Animal Medical Care Questions

A country vet answers questions about what to do when a cow tears a teat or cuts a milk vein, and how to keep livestock safe from rabies.

| June/July 1992

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    Unless you feel competent enough to handle your animal's medical crisis, it's often best to call the veterinarian.
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    Though rabies is commonly associated with biting animals, any animal can be susceptible to it, and can be a carrier.
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    Since livestock with rabies may chew on inedible things, or not be able to swallow hay, the old veterinary adage, "Beware the dog with a bone stuck in its throat" can be altered to say, "Beware any animal with something stuck in its mouth."

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On an early June morning as you leave the barn after milking and head for the house for breakfast, the whole world seems to be just right. The mare stands by her foal, head down as though asleep. Even the foal, belly full of milk, stretched out on its side, is dozing. The early morning sun warms your back as it reflects off the dew on the grass and flowers appear to be sprinkled with diamonds. The fragrance of the grass you cut for hay yesterday reaches your nose on the almost imperceptible breeze. A far off dove calling for a mate is the only sound, the other birds having already sung their "good morning," and commenced their search for food.

People who have not spent a large part of their lives getting out of bed before daylight to care for livestock don't seem to understand the pleasure in doing so. Perhaps it takes a "morning person" to appreciate this, or perhaps it is something one adapts to through life experience. Regardless of the reason, nothing can compare to the sights, sounds, and odors of a June morning, lifting one's spirit to heights seldom reached throughout the rest of the year.

Back in the days when country veterinarians spent more time trying to cure livestock ills than prevent them, the phone would almost stop ringing in early June. All too often when the phone did ring, it was because of a dire emergency. Even today too many part-time livestock farmers don't call a veterinarian to prevent disease in their family, waiting for illness to strike before making a call. Of course, even with the best-run disease-prevention program, livestock injuries and accidents do happen, and some diseases such as rabies know no season. Some recent questions reflect this:

Caring for a Torn Cow Teat

Last summer our family milk cow tried to crawl through a barbed-wire fence to reach her calf and tore a hole in one teat so deep that the milk ran out. The wound healed in a week or so, but milk still leaked out of the hole continually, particularly when we got the cow ready to milk. She will go dry next month—will the hole into the milk duct heal then, or is there anything I can do to help it heal? 

When your cow is fully dry, with local anesthesia or perhaps the use of a tranquilizer, your veterinarian will be able to recut the outer skin and suture the wound. This looks easy, but requires much skill and patience. Antibiotics are usually infused into the repaired quarter, and your veterinarian may suggest you keep the cow in a clean, well-bedded stall instead of turning her to pasture where she may pull the stitches out on a bush or tall grass.

This type of wound can also be surgically repaired if attended to immediately after it happens. But the after care is much more difficult, involving milking the injured teat with a milk tube and maintaining absolute cleanliness. Since the injured quarter would need to be infused with antibiotics during the healing process, milk from all four quarters would have to be kept from human consumption. Still, it is worth a try, and if it doesn't heal, there is always a second chance at the dry period. Good luck!

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