Farm calls, farmyard surgery, …and chocolate!

I was really looking forward to my Production Animals Rotation and hoping that we would get lots of hands on opportunities with the large animal species that I love working with.

We started the week with a couple of days in the classroom talking through a mastitis case, a reproduction problem on farm, how to get a job in rural practice, etc.

One of the best days during this rotation was when we went to the cattle yards at uni and practiced doing tail vein blood draws, epidurals, inverted L blocks, and paravertebral blocks. The ‘blocks’ are a procedure that the vet usually does prior to surgery where an injection of anesthetic solution is put over nerves & tissues in order to block feeling to that area.  They are a very common procedure in cattle medicine so I am glad we had the opportunity to practice them. We were also able to practice rectal exams & pregnancy diagnosis again. None of the cattle were pregnant.

Wednesday is often everyone’s favourite day. In the morning we visit an abattoir and in the afternoon we go to a chocolate factory. I really enjoyed the abattoir visit; it was a sheep processing facility that produced halal meat. We started at the packing end of the plant where all the cuts of meat in boxes are stored in chilled rooms and packed for shipping. The Australian’s got to experience going into a -20C and -40C freezer. It was entertaining. Then we proceeded up the processing line to where the sheep were stunned and killed. Then we visited the yards outside where the sheep are held when they arrive at the abattoir prior to processing. I really enjoyed this experience because I am interested in food production and a vet’s role in how we are involved in the production of safe, efficient, tasty, humane food.  This is a sensitive topic for a lot of people and I like being educated and involved. In the afternoon we went to the Great Ocean Road Chocolate Factory. It was meant to be a visit to a food processing facility…. I think the university could have picked a better location like a feed mill, or a milk processing plant, but I got free chocolate–so I’m not complaining!  We got to wander around the show room and then went to the back for a special chocolate tasting and spoke with a chocolatier about his techniques and favourite things to create. Some of the chocolate we tried included Australian bush flavors which were really tasty!

20180530_154049

Any day at the chocolate factory is a good day!

We had a fantastic opportunity to do both vasectomies and castrations on rams at the university. In the real world you wouldn’t do both procedures on the same animal because they are required for different reasons. The sheep were anesthetized and resting in a shepherds chair. We worked in partners and were set off to calculate our own drug doses, complete an exam, and get the surgery going. There were other vets around to help us when we got stumped. It was a really fun experience, everything went well and we went back at the end of the day to check on our patients and make sure they were doing fine.

20180531_104153

Jess demonstrating how the shepherds chair works

On one of the days we hopped in a van and drove out a few minutes to a nearby farm to see some sick cows. The first cow had been lame a week ago but looked much better today.  Another heifer looked like she was either walking on her tip toes or dragging them along; after watching her walk around the yards & lifting her feet up we diagnosed her with contracted tendons. She was likely born with them & either they weren’t fixed when she was a calf or they got a lot more significant as she grew older. The third cow we saw was quite skinny & sickly looking. I could FEEL her heart murmur without even using my stethoscope, that’s how impressive it was! She had already been treated a week ago and was not improving, it was decided that she would likely go for post mortem next week if she continued going downhill.

Another day we drove out to a very large sheep farm on a gorgeous property! We stopped and watched someone who was a contracted sheep ultrasounder. He had his own little trailer that he sat in and pregnancy scanned sheep through their flank. His ultrasound probe was different than I have seen before–it had water that sprayed out of it constantly so they he wouldn’t have to waste time by reapplying ultrasound gel. It took him appx 1-2seconds per sheep to determine if she was pregnant and if she was having a single or twin! We all watched completely astonished for a short time. We walked through the woolshed from the 1800s and then spent the afternoon talking about epidemiology cases.

Alpaca farm day! Everyone was pretty excited about this too–because who doesn’t love an alpaca?! We got to practice catching alpacas (basically sneak-attack hugging them around the neck), ultrasounding them for a pregnancy diagnosis, and blood draws. We were also taught the traditional method of getting alpaca’s to sit down–I forget the proper word! You can tie their legs up underneath them and then they will sit calmly for you to perform a procedure or transport them. There was also a few males that needed to be castrated so we got to ‘share an alpaca’ and practiced our farmyard castrations.

This was a fun rotation and it makes me excited for some placements I have booked with large animal practices back home!

20180607_153209

On the last day we had to give presentations—This is my group mates who brought a model cow all the way from the shed into the seminar room just for a demonstration! 

Advertisements

‘Cows Around’

If anyone caught that Corb Lund reference, thank you.

This placement was a blessing.  Last year I was trying to find placements to go to in Australia (we have to do a certain number of weeks in Australia). I was really struggling because I do not have many friends and no family in Australia. At home, it is easy for me to stay with someone I know or visit people in different areas where I might do a placement. It looked like I was going to have to spend a lot of cash to pay for transportation and accommodation to do placements in Victoria. I was chatting to some of the girls from church about this, and next thing I knew, my friend’s mum called me! She explained that her and her husband had a dairy farm in Gippsland and their vet was amazing, very busy, and took students all the time. She had already called someone and vouched for me and they had agreed to take me on as an extra student at Tarwin Vet Group.

The first day of this placement was what I had imagined real Gippsland weather to be like. It was windy and POURING rain and I started to mentally prepare myself for 3 more weeks of downpour. Our first call was to see some sick cows at a dairy. We wore our normal clothes in the truck and when we arrived at the farm we changed into our boots and rubber pants. Classic student… I didn’t realize the side panels on the vet box on the truck flipped up…so while the vet was hiding from the rain and changing in the dry area I proceeded to dance around and struggle to get my rubber pants on over my coveralls as I got progressively more soaked in the rain.  I am not meant for rain. The first cow we saw had very bloody diarrhea and very pale mucus membranes. The vet wanted to recommend an exploratory laparotomy (abdominal surgery)—in this case we didn’t think the cow would survive a surgery because of the expected amount of blood loss. We thought she had a condition called jejunal hemorrhage syndrome.  We also saw a cow with extremely bad photosensitization—so much worse than any terrible sunburn I’ve ever had, I really felt for that girl.  During my placement we had quite a few ‘sick cow calls’ which allowed me to get lots of practice doing physical exams–a few times we were able to give farmers definitive diagnoses, other times the cattle required tests to figure out what was truly going on.  I saw a lot of different cases including ill-thrift, lumpy jaw, woody tongue, coccidia scours, pneumonia, bilateral pyelonephritis, and polioencephalomalacia.

20180413_165335

I spent all 3 weeks on twisty roads, going up and down hills. At the tops of hills (on clear days) there was some amazing views 

We often got calls to see cows and calves with lumps on them! Our first ‘calf with lump’ call actually ended up being the most interesting.  Lumps in cattle are commonly abscesses and I couldn’t wait to lance it!  But this calf had a large, soft lump down his neck. As I palpated the lump it started getting softer and the calf would walk away and regurgitate up hairball like materials. We spent a while massaging his neck until the lump got much smaller.  We suspected that the calf was sucking hair off his pen-mates ears and ended up with a choke-like condition (more common in horses).

Lameness is another common reason a vet may be called to see a cow. We visited many lame dairy cows, and a few lame beef cattle during my placement. Depending on the vet I worked with I got to practice lifting up legs–either with pulleys (much easier) or just ropes (I need to get rid of my noodle arms). On one occasion we went to see a large Angus bull.  I learned that a lot of the vets will give a little bit of sedation to the lame beef cattle.  Sedation is given to the beef cattle because they are handled less than the dairy cattle and often more dangerous to work with, sedation can calm them down and allow us to safely complete a full lameness exam. I really liked this idea and think it is a smart option for me–especially as a new grad while I’m still developing clinical skills and figuring out my methods.  One of the best lameness cases I saw was a septic hock. I aspirated ~20ml of purulent exudate from the joint. It was very interesting to see the difference in treatment of septic hocks between the horses we saw at the referral hospital at the beginning of the year and this cow.

One of the vets that works at Tarwin is the ‘down cow guru’. One day we got an after hours call for a dairy cow with a dislocated hip. Two other students and I went with the vet to see the cow.  He showed us how to properly palpated the hip joint, the top of the femur (greater trochanter), and examine the abnormal appearance and movement of the of the leg in order to confirm that her hip had actually popped out of the  joint. He also showed me how to roll a cow over by myself (for when I’m working alone). We then put a metal bar under the cow’s leg and attached her up to a tractor to help put traction on the leg and pull it back into place —its hard to describe the procedure (but its so cool and I love it)! The sun went down as we worked and I drove back in the dark —they told me to watch out for wombats on the road…I imagine hitting a wombat is similar to hitting a boulder…

The next week we had another call for a cow with a luxated hip, I was excited because I felt like I had a better idea of what was going on and could be more involved in her treatment this time around. She ended up being a weird case–firstly, she was still walking around when we arrived on farm. We gave her enough sedation to drop a huge bull but she still wouldn’t lay down!  Then when we finally had her on the ground her knee felt swollen and we heard a loud pop when gently moving her leg. She may have had a partially luxated hip and also a knee problem.

During the last week we went to see a down cow and diagnosed her with compartment syndrome. We put hip clamps on her and used the tractor to pick her up and then completed a further exam. We tested reflexes, muscle tone, superficial, and deep pain. We diagnosed her with a radial nerve paralysis. The vet I was with then did some physiotherapy–>electrostimulation to assist her muscles in the healing process. While driving around with this vet I had some great discussions about acupuncture as a treatment for different conditions in animals.

20180417_170249

The machine we used for electrostimulation on the down cow

I enjoy reproductive work in cattle and horses. Unfortunately, we only had one calving call during my placement.  This was fun for me because the vet got me to stick my hand in first & diagnose the problem…. I felt 3 front legs…. and diagnosed her with twins! The vet untwisted and pulled the first one out and then left me to get the second twin out myself (which was pretty easy after she wasn’t entangled up with her sibling anymore)!  We treated quite a few cows with retained fetal membranes, did some metri-checks, and saw one cow with a mummified fetus.  Every day there was appointments booked for preg-checking. I actually quite enjoy this currently because preg-checking is something that is still quite difficult but I can see improvement in myself each time I practice. I received some great feedback from the vets on this placement about my preg-checking skills so that was encouraging!

Naturally, the call for a uterine prolapse came just after 5pm on a Friday evening. I’m sure I was much more excited about this than the vet (who probably just wanted to go home after a long week).  The cow was up and walking around when we arrived, she went down again about half way through replacing her uterus. The vet, me, and the other student had quite the time spinning her around out of the squeeze so the vet could continue…and then of course she wanted to stand up again after that!  We worked by the light of the quad and our phones until she was all put back together.  We went back to the same farm a week later to do some other work, I asked the herd manager how the cow was doing–fantastic!!

20180413_174435

The sun went down on us quite a few times. But I don’t mind–everyone needs more sunsets in their lives.

I also really like wounds and trauma cases. We were called to see a heifer with a torn vulva after dystocia (difficult calving) that the vet spent a while suturing back together so she could hopefully have another calf.

We did a couple of abdominal surgeries in dairy cattle during my placement. Left displaced abomasums are a relatively common problem in dairy cattle. This is a condition that is usually seen not too long after a cow has a calf, starts producing milk, and eating a really high energy diet—> part of her stomach (the abomasum) is displaced to the incorrect location in her abdomen and fills up with gas. This makes the cow feel sick and she begins to produce a lot less milk. To fix this condition you have to cut into the abdomen of the cow and deflate the abomasum before pulling it back into the correct position. It was very interesting to put my arm inside of the cow and feel the abnormal abomasum while it was full of air, and then to feel it again after we had removed the air and pulled it into a normal location. I’m concerned that I’ll get called to see a really large dairy cow with this problem and I wont be able to reach her abomasum because my arms are too short!!! One of the other surgeries we completed was an exploratory laparotomy— one of the vets had felt a large mass inside the cow’s abdomen during a rectal exam. Once we cut into her abdomen we discovered that she likely had a large abscess on her kidney!

I got to participate in an awesome new herd health management technique that Tarwin is performing—teat sealing heifers. A teat sealant is a substance put into the teats of dairy cows after they are finished milking to prevent them from getting mastitis.  The procedure is now being offered for heifers (cows who haven’t had a lactation yet) in herds who have a high percentage of mastitis in that group. I had no idea what I was in for when the vets and nurses were explaining the process to me but we donned our aprons and boots and hats and even duct taped our gloves on. They unloaded a specially made trailer and set up a whole table with ‘dirty hand wash’, ‘clean hand wash’, paper towel, and teat sealant. The farmer ran the heifers on to the trailer and then we loaded 6 or 7 of them on, cleaned the teats, put in the sealant, marked them with paint and then released them into the field. I loved how seamless the process was and would be interested in seeing results in regards to how much the mastitis rate decreased on farm.

Another day we went out and did some sedated calf de-hornings. I feel as though more and more people are moving towards this more welfare friendly option. We injected sedative into all the calves and waited until they fell asleep and then did cornual nerve blocks.  After they took effect we burnt off the horn buds,  gave each calf an anti-inflammatory/pain medication drug, and checked for supernumerary teats and removed those. This was really fun because I got to do some of the nerve blocks and removed the supernumerary teats! Also, seeing 40 sleeping calves all snoring at the same time is adorable.

20180327_211448

For the first week of the placement I would come back and study for my board exam (NAVLE) every night. I took one day off to write the exam in the city.  

I also really enjoy post mortem examinations–especially after my feedlot placement at the beginning of the year.  As the vet and I drove to the call we discussed reasons for sudden death of a calf a few months old. Our top differential was black leg (failure or absence of Clostridial vaccination). The calf actually died due to a failed/bad castration. We found a huge amount of hemorrhage in the lower abdomen and legs and an infection tracking up from the prepuce.

Pink eye is a common condition in cattle, especially in areas with a lot of flies because they can transmit the disease. In severe cases a 3rd eyelid flap can be performed to protect the eye and help it heal. After watching the vet do a couple of them I started helping out as well. We also injected antibiotics into the eyelids.

There was also a horse vet working at Tarwin. I spent some time shadowing him as well.  The first call we went out to was a very loved horse that had been fed bread and had choke (an obstructed esophagus). This seems like it would be a really emergent situation but its actually not that bad and horses can remain like this for a couple days while we treat them. You just have to nasogastric tube them and flush the obstruction a lot of times until it starts to break down and either goes forward into the stomach or backwards through the tube. We also went and did a gelding (male horse castration surgery) in the hot sun! No more of that pouring rain—I actually really lucked out with the weather for the rest of the week. The farmers probably wouldn’t agree, but I liked the sun.  We drove out to to a pre-purchase exam on an older horse. This was something we practiced on my equine external rotation.  We also had to put a foot cast on a couple different horses because of wounds they had.

I had an amazing time on this placement! With all the hands on practice, tutorials on abscesses, down cows, nursing strategies, calving management, and chats in the car–I learned so much! Staying at my friend’s parents’ house was also lovely; they had warm home cooked food for me each night and made me feel so at home.

Thank you to the Payettes and Tarwin Vet Group!

 

My Placement at a Riding Facility and Petting Zoo

This placement was super close to my parents house so it was very nice to be in town every day after working on the farm. This farm owned quite a few horses that were leased out or used for riding lessons. They also have tons of different animals that are part of a petting zoo….ferrets, chinchillas, guinea pigs, parrots, cows, pigs, chickens, peacocks, goats, emus, alpacas, llamas, hedgehogs, cats, dogs! I was also lucky enough to do this placement with my best friend/roommate (its about time we did a placement together!).

Each morning started with chores. Animals inside were taken care of first and stalls or pens mucked out. Then we grabbed the water truck and headed outside to all the outdoor animals. One of the problems with keeping animals outside in the winter is that you either have to have heated water containers (so no ice can form) or you have to go around and break all the ice out of the containers before filling them up! We brought a hammer to break up ice.

WP_20160210_10_04_26_Pro

At this point, I became pretty good friends with one of the parrots who rode around in my hood to stay warm.

All the animals outside received extra bedding or grain to help them keep warm when it snowed. Many of the horses wore thick blankets as well. Some animals require more specialized feed. For example, the guinea pigs received extra vitamin C and D in their water because they are prone to deficiencies.

There were 3 older horses who had a hard time eating hay and getting enough energy so we brought them inside every day and gave them a mixture of grain and beet pulp.

 

Horses were ‘worked’ or ‘broken’ later in the afternoon. Often they spent a long time running around in a circle on the end of a lunge line. During one session the vet came out from a nearby equine clinic to look at an older horse that had tripped hard earlier in the week. I took a couple of minutes to chat to the vet about Metacam and how it is metabolized differently in the horse than other animals.

My friend and I spent some time working with a pony. He will eventually be pulling carts and working with young kids so he needs to be quite comfortable with unknown sights and sounds. We ran him around in circles and over jumps. We also rolled barrels and a large exercise ball close to and over him. The pony was very uncomfortable with us touching his back and hind end. With some more work this pony will be well on his way to cart pulling!

Another day we assisted with breaking a horse to a wagon. Last time this horse was hooked up to the wagon she freaked out and sat on the bar (a very dangerous situation)! We made sure to move slowly and calmly. First we pulled the cart around the horse so she could get use to how it looked and moved. Then we walked the horse around the cart. Lastly, we slowly hooked the horse to the cart and then walked beside her in the arena. The session went very well.

WP_20160211_007

We spent a lot of time grooming horses, sweeping the barn, organizing the tack room, watering down the arena (to keep the dust down), blanketing and moving horses, and oiling tack. Tack is oiled to ensure the leather stays supple, smooth, and in good condition so that it can be used for many years.

 

On our last day of placement we worked on some worksheets about horse health, anatomy, and care. However, the highlight of this day was learning to ride English.  Previously, all my riding experience has been in Western saddles so this was quite fun for me. A couple of staff members were working with a young horse–getting him used to being ridden and the commands he needs to follow. My friend and I were riding older horses in the arena so the young horse would feel less nervous.

I had a lot of fun being around (and learning about) the huge assortment of animals at this farm. Thank you for the opportunity!

 

My Placement on a Robotic Dairy Farm

This last week I completed a placement on a robotic dairy farm. I was very interested to see how a dairy functioned/filled up their time if there wasn’t 2 or 3 scheduled milking times a day. Through this week I learned that dairy operations are all about routine and cycles.

Each day starts and ends with feeding calves. We would use diverted milk from the robots and milk from the bulk tank to fill a portable pasteurizer. The machine would warm the milk to a sufficient temperature for calves. Specific amounts of milk could be dispensed from the pasteurizer into nipple buckets for the calves. Older calves were group housed and also received pellets. Sometimes calves have not learned how to drink off the nipple buckets and we have to help/teach them. Newborn calves are taken off their mothers and bottle fed (or stomach tubed) 2L of colostrum 3 times in the first 12 hours. The babies also receive a preventative scours pill.

WP_20160203_050

This calf is settling down for a nap after her bottle of colostrum. 

Other regular chores include moving animals around the farm depending on what stage in their lactation cycle they are at. Cows that are kept outside will grow a winter coat so they can keep warm. Once the cows are brought inside (because they are fresh) they will be too hot and sweaty in the barn. One day I spent a bit of time trimming a cow so she would be more comfortable. (I hope they aren’t planning on showing her anytime soon!). Checking young stock for foot problems, pink eye, gait, signs of estrus, signs of abortions in bred cows, etc. is also a daily task. Three times during the day the mattress beds are raked clean and bedding spread out. This helps to keep the cows clean and comfortable reducing the risk of infection.

WP_20160204_012.jpg

These are memory foam beds with a rubber mat on top and gypsum bedding. DYK that cows produce more milk if they are lying down and ruminating? This is great incentive for farmers to make sure their cows are as comfortable as possible!

It is always essential to make sure the robots are working properly. This involves checking stats and alarms on the computer in the office. Sometimes cows that go through the robots are marked as ‘incomplete’ because not all 4 quarters of their udder were milked. Each of these cows needs to be found in the barn and checked (possibly mastitis, kicking off cups, bad conformation, etc) and then milked out. I stripped a quarter of an udder by hand in a cow that had mastitis (we did a CMT test first) and then gave her treatment. Each time we medicate a cow that treatment needs to be entered into the computer system so that when the robot milks her the treated milk can be diverted out of the bulk tank.

Outside of the regular routine on the dairy we artificially inseminated (AI) a couple of cows based on the observation of estrus behavior (mounting), activity levels recorded in the computer, and days in milk.

WP_20160204_001

This is a liquid nitrogen storage container for semen straws used for AI. 

Every 2 weeks on the dairy a herd health check is completed by the veterinarian. On Wednesday the vet was doing pre-breed checks and preg-checks. I grabbed a glove and palpated along behind the vet trying to feel the things he was describing. (For my non-animal friends this does mean that I was sticking my arm up cow butts). Next, we went to another barn and preg-checked heifers to assess if they were open(not pregnant), bred (pregnant), or needed to be started on an ovsynch protocol. When the vet comes he sedates some of the older calves so that we can go through and dehorn them with a hot iron dehorner. Cattle need to be dehorned to make the farm safer for other animals and staff.

On Friday I was lucky enough to be put in contact with the farm’s nutritionist. Well managed farms will typically consult with a nutritionist to formulate appropriate diets for the different groups of animals. It was a farm call day for the nutritionist so as we drove around we chatted about feed, agriculture, dairies, school, etc. The first dairy we visited was a simpler operation than the one I was on all week. The most interesting area was the nurse cows. Cows that were not good milkers were removed from the herd and put in a pen with calves. The calves suckled naturally from the cows until they were about 5 months of age. We visited a second dairy after lunch as well. I found it interesting that not only did the nutritionist complete Pen State Shaker tests, discuss rations, and evaluate feed–he also consulted the farm on all other areas of management.

Professional hoof trimmers will visit dairy barns a few times a year. Lameness/gait issues are often a major problem in dairy barns. To treat cows with foot rot, ulcers, and other problems the regular staff can do touch ups on the cattle. I learned that sometimes the hoof trimmer will add a wooden block to the hoof to reduce pressure on certain areas and promote healing.

 

The farmer I spent some of my time with this week is extremely forward thinking and willing to try new things to move his farm business forward. One of his latest trials included feeding yucca as an additive. According to the workers the yucca seemed to be increasing the dry matter intake of the cows and stabilizing intake over the week. I’ve seen many cool feeds for dairy cattle on other farms including: brewers grains, candy, oranges/lemons, grapeseed, etc.

I got to practice my cattle clinical skills this week with IV injections through the jugular, drawing blood through the tail vein, giving intra-mammary infusions and several intramuscular injections, palpating, and even trying my hand at dehorning!

WP_20160204_015

These friendly ladies supervised me as I worked all week. 

 

I apologize for the long post! I had a lot of fun on the dairy this week; it reminded me of my time in my undergrad studying dairy science, preparing for the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge and competing at the regional and national competitions in California and Indiana. I would highly recommend this competition to any pre-vet or vet students in North America!

Dairy farming is quite different in North America than it is in Australia! I would love to chat more about the differences in the industry with anyone interested.

For a brief overview of the robotic farm I was at check out this quirky video a few of my previous classmates made: