Saturday, October 20, 2012

When Cattle get Sick

There’s a cold wind blowing across the sandhills today. Yesterday it blew even harder and sent sheets of rain down periodically. Not a good time to have sick calves. But sick they are.

We weaned a week and a half ago and trucked the calves home after they had been off the cow for five days. We treated several calves on weaning day and have been treating them every day since. Yesterday was a marathon with 70 head doctored. Eleven deaths so far.

It’s a heartbreaking thing to witness. We try to get to them before the hang-headed, droopy-eared, snotty-nose stage, which can be too late to save them.

We strive to keep our cattle healthy to prevent illness from ever getting a toehold, but sometimes things go wrong despite our best effort. We think we can trace this outbreak to an episode about three weeks ago when the herd ran out of water. They were on a well, and the generator that pumped the water quit for no particular reason. The crisis was compounded because our second storage tank had blown out a week or so before. The cattle all got a drink finally, but not before the stage was set for pathogens to take hold. Illness often shows up 10-14 days after a stressful event like this. And in our case it coincided with weaning time, adding stress upon stress.

We try to avoid using antibiotics since we market our beef as natural, but we’ve thrown that restraint out the window and are just trying to save lives. Consumers would make the same choice if given the whole story. They mostly want us to avoid the mass use of antibiotic feed additives. But in the end it’s difficult to describe the difference between feeding antibiotics and treating an illness with a dose of antibiotic (just as we do ourselves when we get an infection), so our marketing cooperative has elected to abide by the “never, ever” use of antibiotics. We’ll market these calves through other channels.  

This is not only a sad loss of life and health of animals we care for, it’s a blow to our profitability. We lose the calf income on the ones that die and weight gains suffer on the sick ones that got better. Plus treatment costs are sky high. I came home from the vet (one of many trips) with a small bottle that would treat fifteen calves and the bill was $487.00!

I'm impressed, like always, at how Mark and his dad do what needs to be done without blame, anger, or complaint. Ranching is a lot like the rest of life. You do the best you can, knowing that sometimes it’s not good enough. And when things go awry, you take stock, regroup, and work together to get through it.

Doctoring on the range before the calves came home: 

Mark and Paul snagging one

how it's done when you're too far from a chute

Seth and Grandpa Gary 

1 comment:

  1. I love your blog Wendy!! I sure do miss you guys so much! I hope all is well!!