Just like you, our beef cows go to the doctor every year. It just so happens that our veterinarians are my husband, my father-in-law, and me. So our cows get “vet-checked” every day when we feed them. Most beef cattle farms will have vet checks once or twice a year (depending on how the farm is run), and the vet will be on call for illnesses or emergencies that come up.
While cattle are domestic animals, they are not really tame animals. They tolerate people being around, but in general they don’t want to be loved and petted like dogs or cats. Think of cattle like that neighborhood cat that runs around, wants you to feed him and talk to him, but won’t let you get close enough to pet him.
Since cattle are not “high contact” animals, we try to leave them alone as much as possible. When we do need to bring them in out of the pasture, we do as much as we can all at the same time so we can leave them alone again for a few months. You can see that one of these cows is watching me; the other cattle are watching the guys who are walking through the pasture towards them.
Our calves are born in the spring, usually sometime between early February and late April, so they are ready to be sold in the fall. These photos were taken last September. When the calves are ready to be sold, we bring all the cattle from the pasture to the barn. We separate out the cows from the calves – the calves go into a temporary holding pen and will be loaded into a trailer to be taken to the sale barn that night. The cows wait their turn in the barn.
One at a time, we herd a cow into this chute. The front part of the chute gently closes around her neck so she can’t pull her head back and she can’t push her shoulders forward (think a very loose head-lock). She’s not being choked, and she’s not uncomfortable, she’s just restrained.
We check to see if they are pregnant by doing a rectal palpation. John can feel her uterus and tell by the way it feels if she is pregnant or not. If she is pregnant, we keep going; if she is not pregnant she comes out of the chute and into a holding pen. If she’s not pregnant, she goes to the sale barn that night with the calves. Because we have all our cows have their babies in the spring, it is important that they are pregnant in the fall. If they are not pregnant, we don’t want to feed a “freeloader” all winter long who will eat a lot but won’t have a baby for us next spring. There are other farms who calve in the fall, or who calve year-round, so one of those farms will buy her and try to get her pregnant again.
If the cow is pregnant, she gets a dose of pour-on dewormer. This medication gets poured on her back, where she can’t lick it off. The medication will be absorbed through her skin and work to kill off parasites that she might have in her stomach. Parasites live in the soil, and are constantly being picked up by the cow, so this deworming needs to be done a couple of times a year (most cattle farmers do this twice a year).
She also gets vaccinations. These cows get two vaccines. The first vaccine is called a 5-way and is for three viruses and one bacteria that cause respiratory disease and one virus that causes severe diarrhea and reproductive problems. The second vaccine is for a group of bacteria called Leptospira (lepto). The lepto bacteria can cause a bunch of different diseases including fever, abortion, diarrhea, liver or kidney failure, and mastitis. Different areas have different disease concerns and have different vaccine recommendations. For example, in the New England states, rabies is a very big problem, so all animals (dogs, cats, ferrets, and livestock) get vaccinated for rabies. In Indiana, rabies is not a major issue – we vaccinate dogs, cats, and ferrets, but not our livestock. (That took me a while to get used to when I moved out here… I still have to double-check my geography when I’m talking about vaccine recommendations!)
The vaccines happen so fast that I never got a good photo. I’ll work on that next time we bring the girls in. We can do everything in less than 5 minutes per cow. We worked our herd of 30 cattle in about 2 hours that day – getting all the cattle out of the pasture into the barn, sorting the calves, working with all the cows, loading the calves and a few cows onto the trailer, and cleaning up.
What veterinary care do you give your pets every year?