The longer I work with dairy cows, the more I appreciate the quiet cows in our herd that go about their business without any need for extra attention. But even the quiet cows sometimes give us reasons to remember them.
Nevaeh was one of those quiet cows. But I'll never forget the morning we walked into the barn to find a large puddle of blood in front of her. The puddle was mostly clotted, but there was fresh blood streaming from her nose. Lots of blood. The bad thing about blood is that a little can look like a lot, but this really was a lot of blood.
Glen took Nevaeh's temperature and did a quick exam while I sent a text message to our vet. Nevaeh's temp was normal and she didn't have any other obvious symptoms. Our vet called right away with a couple possible explanations: she hit her nose really hard, she had an abscess in one of her lungs that ruptured, or she had caudal vena cava syndrome. An abscess could have been from a previous lung infection. Caudal vena cava syndrome is a multi-system syndrome that involves liver abscesses (often caused by subacute rumen acidosis), septic emboli, and, eventually, ruptured blood vessels in the lungs.
Regardless of the cause, the only thing we could do was wait and see if the bleeding stopped. Bleeding from an injury or abscess would likely stop in time. Caudal vena cava syndrome can result in death due to massive hemorrhage. After almost 24 hours, Nevaeh's nose finally stopped bleeding. A few days later, you wouldn't have known anything had happened to her.
Helen is one of those cows who doesn't need a lot of extra care, but demands a lot of look-at-me attention; she's the kind of cow that waltzes up and down the aisle before hopping into a stall and then voluntarily exits her stall if you forget to tie her up. Helen is also the cow who showed up big for the cameras when The Pioneer Woman and her friends visited our farm.
A couple months after Helen calved last winter, she got sick. Not your typical off-feed sick. Throwing-up sick. I had always believed that cows couldn't vomit. Up until Helen got sick, I had no reason to question that belief because I had never actually seen or heard of a cow vomiting. But I know now that cows can indeed, vomit. Helen's condition was so bad that both the floor and the wall in front of her stall were covered in greenish-brown vomit.
After I witnessed one episode of Helen vomiting and was sure she wasn't just doing a poor job of regurgitating her TMR, I Googled "cow vomit." It turns out there are several reasons why cows might vomit, including listeriosis, hyperacidity of the ration, poisoning, ulcers, diaphragmatic hernias, vagus indigestion and hardware disease (traumatic reticuloperitonitis). But Helen didn't have any of the other symptoms that were associated with those conditions. We tried every supportive therapy that made sense, but with each day of vomiting, Helen's condition worsened. Then, one afternoon while Glen was examining Helen, he heard her rumen ping on the right side. He called the vet clinic and our veterinarian arrived shortly after.
The surgery to correct her RDA went well, but the vet said Helen's chances of recovery were only about 50 percent. She said whatever underlying illness caused Helen's vomiting also caused the RDA and Helen would have to overcome both the illness and the surgery.
We thanked our vet, crossed our fingers, and did everything we possibly could to help Helen recover. Our efforts paid off and Helen made a complete recovery. She bred back a couple months later and she's now back to being her persnickety self.
Cows are amazing creatures that are capable of recovery amidst the worst odds. But not always.
One of my favorite cows, Divine, the red cow that wasn't supposed to be red, is sick. She's been sick for a couple months now. Not super sick, but not well. If I had to guess, I'd say she has some sort of abscess or tumor in her nasal cavity. What started as abnormal nasal drainage has now progressed to open mouth breathing. This happened to another cow several years ago, so we know there's really not much we can do for Divine, short of x-rays, CAT scans and surgery. Not having any practical solutions makes her condition all the worse to think about.
The silver lining of Divine's cloud is that the rest of her body was healthy enough to carry a calf and, last week, she gave birth to her first red and white heifer calf. (Her other three calves were either black and white or bulls.) Remarkably, she calved without any trouble and has transitioned well into lactation. Even so, Divine probably won't stay with us much longer. I have to believe that whatever is going on in her head isn't painless. She has lived a good life and it is better for her life to end humanely than for her to suffer in pain.