“Love what you do and you won’t work a day in your life”.
is what we usually say sarcastically to team members at our clinic when they return dejected from a difficult phone call or a sleepless night on the road.
However, on some rare occasions, we can get days when work really doesn’t feel like work at all.
Everything is going well and you feel like you have achieved something as you flop onto the couch that evening, tired but quite happy. Luckily I had one of those days last week.
The day started early with reading a TB test from a dairy herd. I was at the farm by 5:30 am and as each row of cows finished milking they sauntered steadily into the crowd.
This herd of cows is one of the quietest and calmest herds we have and each cow barely moved when I read her tag numbers and took skin measurements.
The 90’s music from the radio in the pit provided a beautiful soundtrack to the cows heading out into the paddock of fresh grass on another stunning day as the sun rose.
Luckily it was a clean run and none of the animals showed any signs of TB. TB testing is a daily part of our lives as veterinarians, and it’s never a pleasant experience when reagents show up the day of the exam. Maintaining our ability to export cattle and keeping our ever-growing herds free of this debilitating disease is a necessary evil.
Still, the devastating impact of a TB outbreak cannot be underestimated, both financially and in terms of the mental health of an often very stressed farmer.
After a quick cup of coffee we went to the first clinical assignment of the day. It was what I would call “nicely handy” – a blind lamb. The lamb was a super specimen but was having trouble standing and definitely couldn’t see.
A full examination ruled out bacterial meningitis so I was pretty sure this lamb had CCN. CCN is better known as vitamin B1 deficiency. B1 is needed to metabolize glucose in the body. Glucose is a vital source of energy for the brain. So when B1 deficiency occurs and glucose is not available, the brain suffers.
Signs of B1 deficiency can range from the vague, such as an affected animal moving away from the group and just being “out of shape,” to more serious signs such as blindness, circling, an inability to stand, and eventually death.
Luckily the farmer caught our lamb in the early stages. Intravenous B1 injections along with intramuscular B1 injections throughout the day resulted in a decent recovery. Hydration for B1 deficient animals is very important as they have often been unable to find the water trough for the last few hours.
To prevent more lambs or young calves from developing the disease, dietary fiber needs to be supplemented. The young, developing rumen must be kept healthy so that the bacteria that produce B1 continue to do so in sufficient quantities.
Access to hay in the pasture, especially when the grass is lush, can make all the difference. Licks are available with added B1, which can also help prevent the condition.
It’s worth noting whether calves or lambs eat ferns, as this puts them at a higher risk of developing B1 deficiency. Ferns contain enzymes called thiaminases that stop the production of B1 in the rumen.
The lamb was quickly followed by a cup of tea (you’ll notice a trend – every call is rewarded with a cup of tea/coffee). The next stop was to scan 45 dairy heifers to see if they were pregnant.
The crush was just wide enough to behave like a herringbone pattern – we brought each heifer’s head inward so the end I was interested in faced outward.
We flew through the scan and all but one were in the calf. The offending heifer was easily identified as Freemartin. There were no ovaries to be seen and the uterine horns were no bigger than a pencil lead.
These heifers are mostly twins from a male and indeed, when the farmer checked his records, this heifer was actually a half twin from a bull. It is unsuitable for breeding and is sold for meat fattening.
Another cup of tea and on to the next call which involved two very ill Angus calves from a dairy herd that had been out on the pasture for the last two months. Although we arrived at the farm less than half an hour after calling our clinic, one of the calves had died. The other calf was breathing very heavily, almost gasping for air.
He didn’t have an extremely high temperature, but his lungs sounded horrible through my stethoscope. I suspected Hoose’s pneumonia (caused by lungworm) but was somewhat startled by the results of a fecal sample taken from the group the previous week, which was free of all parasites.
Luckily I had the opportunity to do a quick autopsy on the dead calf, which confirmed my theory – adult lungworms were clearly visible in the trachea.
An important lesson to learn from this case is that while we rely heavily on the results of fecal samples, which are usually very accurate, there can be times when we need to use our senses as well.
If a group of calves is lethargic and coughing, lungworm is suspect. If these calves are on pastures likely to be heavily contaminated from previous grazing, lungworm is even more likely.
Fecal samples are part of the puzzle, but they’re not everything. This group of calves received immediate treatment and will be closely monitored for new cases of pneumonia over the next few days.
The last call was an interesting SCC investigation. Together with another veterinarian from our clinic, I observed the farmer’s milking process in the milking parlour.
Repeated cases of mastitis and high bulk SCC were an intense source of stress and frustration. Luckily we both found the source of the problem – there was a problem with the vacuum that hopefully a full machine service can fix.
All in all, my day was not a stressful one and each case had a good ending. No pleasure without pain, but hopefully the pain stays away for a few more days.
Eamon O’Connell is a Veterinarian at Summerhill Vet Clinic, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/eamon-oconnell-why-no-tb-a-blind-lamb-one-freemartin-and-a-saved-calf-is-like-a-vets-dream-day-41883072.html Eamon O’Connell: Why no TB, a blind lamb, a Freemartin and a rescued calf are like a vet’s dream day