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A Close Call August 13, 2008

Posted by Laura in Farm.

We had a scare last night- one that made me realize I’m a little more attached to these silly bovines than I realized.

We have several apple trees that run along the fence line where the cows and donkeys are now.  As the apples began to ripen, some fell into the paddock and were quickly eaten.  We have been feeding the ones on the ground in the yard to the animals through the fence, working them gradually up to about a 30 lb ration a day for the 7 of them (the 2 new calves, 2 heifers, 1 borrowed bull, and 2 donkeys), much to their delight.

Yesterday afternoon, I was out collecting apples to make applesauce.  Ones with too many soft spots, I rolled into the paddock.  The “good ones” I put into my bucket.  About the time I had a full bucket, I heard a strange sound from one of the heifers.  She had just eaten an apple and had apparently tried to swallow it whole.  It lodged in her throat.  Fortunately it was not blocking her windpipe, but she was making awful sounds trying to get the apple out.  Much head slinging and foamy slobber followed and I was powerless to help her.  It went on and on for hours.

She lay down.  She got up.  She put her head down low, swung it back and forth, and made chewing motions.  She wandered off away from the others.  She couldn’t eat or drink.  By dark last night, she had bloated.  That was bad.

When an animal bloats, gases build up in the rumen and distend its sides, usually unevenly.  It is very dangerous because the pressure squeezes the lungs and heart and can cause death.  Bloat is usually caused by over eating something the gut is not yet accustomed to digesting in such quantities, like early spring clover or grain.  All dietary changes must be made gradually- that is why we had taken care to work the animals up to such a generous apple ration.

Cows also burp a lot to get rid of the gas as it’s produced.  Lacey’s problem was that she couldn’t burp effectively.  By the time we were ready to go to bed last night, Lacey was in pretty bad shape and we were concerned.

We don’t yet have a “headcatcher”- a device that safely confines an animal for veterinary care.  That was a problem.  But even if we already had one, the usual solution for bloat probably wouldn’t work in this case.  An 8-10 foot hose is fed down the nose or mouth into the gut to release the pressure-  angle the end of the hose AWAY from you before it hits the rumen or take a nasty spray in the face!.  We weren’t even sure we could do that for Lacey since she had an obstruction.  The other solution is drastic and only for when you know it’s life or death- pierce the rumen with a knife from the outside.

We went to bed anxious about her condition, though neither of us slept well.  I dozed and woke often, considering whether I should go outside and check on her with a flashlight.  I decided not to since I still couldn’t do anything for her but worry uselessly.  I prayed that the building pressure would blow the apple out of her esophagus instead of press in on her lungs.

Joe was up and outside checking on Lacey at first light.  He came in and reported that she looked downright skinny compared to last night!   We both said prayers of thanksgiving for her recovery.

While this blocked esophagus problem would probably never happen again, we instituted a new rule:  all apples must be split in half before feeding to animals.  Benjamin and Rachel have already come up with a clever way to do this- they press the soft spots against the T-posts and the apples usually split right open.  Necessity is the “child” of invention!



1. Marci - August 13, 2008

We had the exact same thing happen with a cow, although it never got to the bloat part. You do feel totally helpless. We had the same cow bloat from something else a couple of years ago. We ended up having to stab her in the rumen 3 times. She is still alive and gentle today.

2. Marci - August 13, 2008

Laura, you can zap this if you want. It is a test message…

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