Two Letters Re: Cattle Raising Basics

Just a few more thoughts on cattle.  

The author had mentioned some of the issues that may arise when raising cattle.  Some treatment methods are important to understand.  The most common treatable problems encountered in cattle will be related to calving problems, prolapse and bloat. 

Calves are born with the front feet first, followed by the nose.  Any position that deviates from this may require some intervention on your part.  A prolapse can also be easily treated.  With the cow secured in a chute, wet the prolapse with water, and wipe down with sugar or dish soap.  Next push it back inside.  Put 2 to 3 stitches  in the labia (near the middle so as not to interfere with the cow’s bathroom functions.  Prolonging the treatment of a prolapse interferes with a cows urinary excretion.  The final common thing to know is how to treat bloat, which will quickly suffocate cattle.  Bloat is usually most common in fed cattle.  You should keep a long needle on hand for such emergencies (longer than 2″)  If bloating cannot be alleviated by exercising the cow, the air pressure can be relieved by sticking the needle in the rumen in the area between the hip and ribs.  This must be done on the appropriate side.  

Another thing that concerns me with cattle are the diseases TB and Brucelosis.  Every state claims to be free of Brucelosis.  In other words they have managed to control the disease, but are no longer willing to throw money at the problem.  Brucelosis is known as Undulant fever in humans, and is an extremely miserable disease.  It would most likely be fatal without medical intervention.  Cattle handlers often come down with the disease from handling urine or milk.  One of your best bets now would be to keep your herd vaccinated, and tested.  If you have a clean herd now, its probably a safe bet that it will be clean later, providing you don’t introduce strange animals into your herd (especially for breeding)  That’s my 2 cents on the subject. – J.F.


The “Buy cow-calf pairs in the Spring” strategy described in a recent letter has inherent risks. Cow/calf pairs sold in the spring are often defective in some way. Here are some of the reasons beef producers would sell cow/calf pairs in the spring. Foremost reason is the cow is no longer a viable breeder, this can happen several ways but most common is either a prolapsed uterus (when the uterus turns inside out and extends outside the cow’s vagina) or a C-section delivery. The standard treatment for both of these procedures include veterinarian intervention and extended antibiotic treatment by owner. The sale of these animals are normally done after the recommended antibiotic withdrawal interval has elapsed so the cow can be slaughtered. In either case the cow will still be recovering and may not raise a healthy strong calf. In some cases her milk production may have actually stopped during her treatment stage.

Another common reason a cow /calf pair would be for sale in the spring is what I call ‘attitude’ reasons, these include ‘jumpers’ (they jump fences won’t stay where you put them and cause an inordinate amount of fence damage) or ‘rips’ (nasty critters that either hate all humans and are dangerous or they hate their own calf and refuse to let it suckle).

The last reason I can think of and it occurs late in the spring season is ‘broken mouth’ this term refers to an aged cow with either broken or missing teeth. Cows only have lower front incisors to harvest grass with, think about cutting a celery stalk against your thumb with a knife. When these teeth are worn down to the gum level these cows will only be able to graze on tender green grass i.e. irrigated pasture or hay. The other form of ‘broken mouth’ is when the molars, which grind all of the cows feed into small pieces, have been themselves been ground down to the gums. This inability to chew their food or ‘cud’ decreases their digestive efficiency which yields poor milk production and weight loss. These pairs are normally sold after winter feeding is done and before the herd is turned out onto rangeland, because the beef producer knows these cows will suffer in these conditions.

One last reason for this kind of sale concerns the calf, it is exceedingly rare (I have seen on three in approximately 4,000 births) and that is a premature calf. The three I have helped raise were from 1/3 to 1/2 normal size at birth and this ratio is maintained throughout it’s life. Where normal beef animals attain full size at 1,000 to 1,500 lbs. depending on breed, pre-mes will be all done growing at 500-700 lbs. I have sold pairs in the spring for all of these reasons.

Just remember LET THE BUYER BEWARE All of these types have telltale signs which the buyer should look for so he/she knows what they are buying:

  • Prolapse – Look for a series of healed holes 4 or 5 on each side of the vaginal opening- prolapse sutures are like old fashioned cotton shoestrings and the holes (even healed) are large about the size of shoe eyelets. Also field expedient treatments that do work and are done at really remote locations include inserting a football size rock or even a gallon plastic jug into the uterus to retain the uterus internally until the cow ceases pushing. Veterinarians use drugs to stop the pushing.
  • C-section – A large patch of shaved hair with a central vertical scar extending below the hollow ahead of and below the left hipbone.
  • Jumpers – They will try to jump out of the auction ring.
  • Rips – They will charge ring attendants or kick at the calf as it runs alongside it’s mother.
  • Lack of milk production – Teats a matte type finish to skin, and the hair around teat is straight and dirty. A suckling teat will be shiny, clean and surrounded by curly hair.
  • Premature calf – harder to discern because even I have seen so few, obviously very small size but that could be hard to tell if in reality the calf was born early in calving season and has grown for 1-2 months before it was sold. The ones I saw had obvious physical defects including lack of full range of motion in the legs and smaller head size as compared to body size than a normal calf.
  • Broken mouth – The only way to determine is with actual inspection of mouth.

I hope you find this useful. – Mike H.