Saturday, September 17, 2011

Being a food animal veterinarian, day 5

Day 5. I was refreshed after a weekend of sleeping 13 hours a night (still catching up after my exhausting small animal surgery rotation the previous month). I signed up to ride with Dr. Gray and my classmates Will and Anna.

Farm one. A largish farm for a family farm, but run by people who clearly really cared about their cows, a mom and daughter team. Anna performed a castration; Dr. Gray said I could show her how since I had done one before (making me an expert, clearly). There was a long discussion about whether to use lidocaine (a painkiller) or not, as there always is when calf castration is discussed. Since this is something I’ve thought about a lot, I was able to present the usual pro and con arguments to my rotation mates. We used lidocaine. The calf was a lot bigger than the one I had done before. My advice: do them younger. The restraint is a lot easier.

Then we did the usual herd check. One cow had had a forced extraction recently, a difficult birth ending in having the baby pulled out of her using chains. Dr. Gray did a vaginal exam, which is more uncomfortable for the cow than a rectal exam, such that students are not allowed to follow after and do their own exam. She had multiple internal lacerations, so Dr. Gray recommended antibiotics and pain killers. This was one of those sticky situations where pain killers weren’t absolutely necessary, just indicated for the cow’s comfort. He thought the farmer wouldn’t want to give them and considered not even suggesting them, but in the end did suggest them (“if you wanted to give some banamine, it wouldn’t be wrong”) and the farmer promptly agreed. I had thought she would, since she seemed to really care about her cows. Veterinarians, it is not wrong to just suggest the best care, even if you think your client will say no! You just have to find a way to do it in a way that won’t make your client feel uncomfortable if they do feel they can’t afford it.

Overall, I mostly liked how these cows were kept; the health of the cows was clearly a high priority on this farm. I am still not happy that the industry standard keeps cows on slippery concrete where they are bound to develop foot problems (10% of a herd is expected to be lame on any given day), walking in manure so that they are caked with it up their legs, and not getting to eat the grass that they evolved to eat.

Second farm of the day: we preg checked (pregnancy checked, rectally) about 100 cows. PHEW. Luckily there were three of us. As the herd check started winding to a close, Dr. Gray put Will and me on the task of giving the cows the injections that they needed. When a cow was preg checked and found to be open (not pregnant), with structures on her ovary to indicate that she had recently ovulated, she got an L written on her side in orange chalk. When she was pregnant she got a P. Otherwise she got nothing. I injected all the P cows with a multiple vaccine. Early pregnancy is a good time to vaccinate so that the mom will pass on the antibodies to the baby in her colostrum after birth. Will injected the L cows with Lutalyse. This is a hormone (prostaglandin F 2α) which causes them to reset their estrual cycle so that they will ovulate in the next three days and can be bred again. In general the female vet students avoid handling Lutalyse, because if it gets in our system we get very bad cramps. I was glad to have Will there to give those injections.

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