It was one of those grueling days when even taking lunch is a luxury I cannot afford. I was doing vaccination against foot and mouth disease in Naivasha a month ago.
The farm has about 200 head of cattle and a similar number of sheep and goats. Rono, the farm manager, and two farm workers assisted me in restraining the animals.
I also did herd health examination to determine the status of the herd and individual animals. I carry out the exercise periodically on large farms to ensure that diseases are kept in control through good management, feeding and scheduled disease control activities.
These include weekly treatment for external parasites, vaccinations, deworming and appropriate use of disinfectants.
In the course of my examination, several animals turned out sick with mild lumpy skin disease and I treated them appropriately.
I had vaccinated the animals two weeks earlier for the disease. Observation of the mild disease was an indication the vaccine was working.
I also checked for pregnancy in a few animals whose breeding records did not appear to agree with their visual stage of pregnancy.
Three cows had joint problems emanating from hoof infections. I gave them treatment and advised on daily washing with copper sulphate solution for five days.
I treated three calves for pneumonia and advised blocking of part of the open space in the wall of the calf house to reduce wind chill at night.
By the time I finished at 5pm, we were all extremely tired and looking forward to a warm cup of tea. That quickly turned out to be wishful thinking.
I was washing my hands and gumboots when one of the milkers came running and said that one of the cows I had vaccinated had not produced a single drop of milk. The milking machine had recorded “zero” yield.
“The cow must be reacting to the vaccine,” he opined.
I looked at the cow and confirmed to Rono the milk drop had nothing to do with the vaccine. The cow looked dull and had not eaten well.
It must have developed the problem after vaccination because I recalled a loud vocalisation when I injected the animal. The cow had been cheerful at the time, about three hours before.
As it was being driven to the restraining crush, I noticed it was very dull and walked rather carefully.
It also had some saliva hanging on the muzzle and kept tongue-smacking. These were indications of pain.
As I did a thorough medical examination of the cow, it kept on trying to kick the left side of the abdomen, indicating left abdominal pain.
The lung sounds were harsh signifying pneumonia, but the disease would, however, not have caused complete loss of milk.
The temperature was slightly elevated and rectal examination showed very scanty faecal content.
FLOOR OF THE ABDOMEN
I pinched the top of the shoulders and the animal bent with an audible grant. This was a further indication of pain in the chest or upper abdomen.
Finally, with the aid of a stethoscope, I felt the sound of air in a pocket. This is medically called a ping on the left side of the upper abdomen.
It was a diagnostic finding that showed the cow’s true stomach, called abomasum, had been displaced to the left side. Its normal position is the floor of the abdomen.
This was an emergency that could not wait. The treatment manoeuvre required more hands than the three of us present. My explanation was necessary as everyone had been eager to leave.
Treatment for abomasal displacement may sometimes require surgery. I really hoped non-surgical treatment would resolve the problem.
I was for sure not in a position to carry out surgery at night, in an extremely cold environment and tired as I was.
Non-surgical or conservative treatment of left abomasal displacement involves casting the animal to the ground and rolling it to the right several times until the organ gets back to its normal position.
In many cases of the condition, the abomasum fills up with gas too quickly and floats up either to the left or the right of the abdomen from its usual abdominal floor position.
If the organ does not twist during displacement, chances of recovery through rolling are high.
The mechanical movement and change in the body’s position expels the gas from the organ and restores it to its normal position.
The most common cause of abomasal displacement in dairy cattle is abnormal fermentation in the rumen because of feeding too much concentrate or easily digestible starch.
The fermentation produces excessive gas that flows into the abomasum, causing it to balloon and float upwards to the right or left of the abdominal cavity.
Most dairy cows get abomasal displacement in the early lactation but it can occur at any time. Beef cattle appear less vulnerable to abomasal displacement than dairy ones.
I treated the animal for pneumonia and also gave an injection to stimulate movement of the stomach and intestines, in an attempt to assist expulsion of the gas from the abomasum.
Rono is well-versed with various techniques of animal handling but getting a 650kg cow to lie down unwillingly is a difficult undertaking.
He called in three other workers. He folded a long, strong and round rope into two. He then placed the centre of the rope on top of the base of the cow’s neck.
Next he passed the two sections of the rope under the cow’s armpit on each side. He brought the rope segments up and crossed them at the top of the shoulders; then passed them between the thighs and the body.
He split the workers into two groups of three and asked them to pull the rope segments backwards with equal and sustained force.
Rono tied the cow’s head with another rope and controlled the animal as it went down with the backward pull.
We rolled the animal to the right twice and it gave a big belch and anal gas expulsion. It then stood up and appeared happy.
When I listened with the stethoscope, the ping was gone. What a lucky day for a tired vet and a very sick cow.