Sotirios’ Vet Decathlon Blog 2

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The penny dropped

A dairy cow with toxic mastitis marked the beginning of yet another challenging week. It’s an unfortunate occurrence and in my opinion, and for animals under my care, is often linked to high yielding cows and coliform infection. I have seen it occur in one or more quarters.

The problem is that the inflammation can produce a substantial amount of toxins. A particularly vulnerable cow, perhaps because she has recently calved or came on heat, can become overwhelmed. They go down and can’t get up, rather as if they are in a drunken state.

The chances are at best 50:50. In my opinion and for animals under my care, I find what works best is treatment that involves a number of things. I treated this one for milk fever, as it was soon after calving. She needed a vast amount of fluid, administered via a long tube down the food pipe.

I gave her 40 to 60 litres of warm fluid and anti-inflammatory. It was the Rolls Royce treatment, but although two days later when I checked her she was up, she looked rough. She is likely to survive the lactation, but might lose the quarter.

I normally recommend to my clients that for milk cases of mastitis they bring a milk sample to our laboratory. It means we can test first and then decide on the best course of treatment, because, as in this case, time is of essence. If I hadn’t treated her quickly, we might have lost the animal.

As she began to recover, the farmer and I were discussing the situation, when he mentioned his sheep. They were lambing and he was perplexed by the number of lambs born weak and lethargic, as many as one in three. They didn’t appear to know where they were.

It was then that the penny dropped. It’s important to put the pieces of the puzzle together and this was an important piece. Every dairy farm will get the occasional cow with toxic mastitis. Equally often, dairy cows may get severe cases toxic mastitis, because they lack something. The list is as long as your arm.

I was interested because, from my experience, one of reasons for lethargic new-borns is the lack of trace elements. I have known it to be particularly iodine, or also selenium or Vitamin E. I shall need to take blood samples to determine the results. My gut feeling is that it could be iodine, with far reaching effects for the enterprise, such as reduced immunity, milk yields and animal survival.

Emergency caesarean

The next intriguing challenge came in the form of a Charollais ewe imported from Ireland. She was carrying twins. The first was delivered and the farmer could feel the second, but knew that somehow it wasn’t inside the uterus.

So he brought it in and I confirmed his findings. The best way of describing it is that it was rather like an ectopic pregnancy. The difference was that it had grown in the uterus, but before or even during lambing something had happened and instead of coming through the genital track it went the wrong way. We both confirmed the fact and I suggested that we do an emergency caesarean while there was still a chance to save lamb and the ewe.

We opened her up and it was quite a sight. The uterine horn looked like an aubergine with a flower, the tip looked as if had exploded and lamb had slipped through. It was in the abdomen. The lamb was still alive and, because we had intervened quickly and on time, we were also able to save the ewe. The next day she was fine and apparently untroubled – if only she had known how close the call was!

Anyone for takeaway?

The third remarkable event had little to do with animal ailments. I was on call when the sound of the phone woke me. Will I ever get used to interrupted sleep, I think not! I answered and I was asked to come out to a lambing.

The farmer said he would have lambed the ewe but had a headache and felt very, very sick. Naturally in these times, my mind turned to coronavirus. I went through all the Covid questions and was satisfied that it was safe to call.

He sent out his wife and daughter to help me. It turned out that in fact his wife didn’t much like sheep and wasn’t that keen to assist. But she did reveal that the family had enjoyed a takeaway earlier in the evening and it had clearly not agreed with the farmer.

I lambed the Dorset ewe, lovely prolific sheep that may lamb up to three times in two years. We delivered two lambs that night, one presented backward, but the second was straight and the ewe is doing well. My client has also recovered, but it might be a while before he opts for another takeaway…

Not so sexed semen

And finally, my working life tends to revolve around sex: routine fertility work for dairy cows, pregnancy diagnosis and the treatment of infertile animals.

It’s usually quite repetitive, but while scanning last week I spotted one calf that turned out to be a bull calf. The dairy cow had been inseminated with sexed semen and I would have expected the calf to have been a heifer.

The sexed semen technology is very advanced and reliable and as few as one in a thousand male sperm might escape, as in this case one had. Not quite one in a million, but still very unusual.