Did you know that cows can get ulcers?
I didn't either...until one of our cows had one.
You may remember how sick Angel was on our trip to Oklahoma for Junior Nationals. It wasn't until we arrived home and our vet examined her that we learned she had a bleeding ulcer.
So how in the world did she end up with an ulcer...especially one so bad that it was bleeding?
Well, the vet explained that there may be several reasons.
First, it could be hereditary. This is a possibility with Angel. Looking back at the other cows we have shown from her bloodline, we have sometimes struggled keeping them on feed at the shows. We always attributed it to normal show stress or just being a more finicky cow. Now, we suspect it could have been ulcer issues.
Cows are made to eat grass. Our herd cows exist on just grass and hay. However, the show string do get grain...it's what you have to do to compete. We do tend to push them pretty hard on grain.
A couple of things were different with Angel this year. First, she was younger when we weaned her because she is a late June calf. This also meant that we started her on grain earlier in order for her to be ready for Louisville and the winter show season.
I think one of the big things that made Angel more susceptible, was our very strange weather this year. As I said, we keep the show animals on grain for most of their show career. However, we do have two breaks in the year where we try to put them out on pasture to let their stomach's recover. This year, we had nothing but rain. Our pastures were mud bogs, so instead of her having a spring grass break...she stayed in the barn...and on grain.
So basically...we burned her stomach up with grain. Add the stress of three days of travel and temperatures and humidity that none of us were used to, and we had one mess of a cow.
The bottom line...
She still had a fever...the first indicator that something is wrong....not like we didn't already know that. However, with the extreme heat, their body temperature will rise as a response to the weather, so it can sometimes be difficult to determine what is a normal reaction and what is abnormally elevated temperature. But, we knew she had a high fever.
Her rumen still was not functioning at all!
So basically, her stomach was complete acid. Her pH levels were way out of wack and she no longer had any good bacteria in her stomach. So any Probios, electrolytes, food or good bacteria was immediately killed off by the high levels of acid.
And the reason she wouldn't drink...the ulcer was bleeding and extremely painful. Even the water was burning her stomach. Then we felt bad for pumping her full of water twice a day because we were causing her more pain. But...it kept her alive.
And by this point of the vet's visit...our stomachs were beginning to form ulcers.
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So how did we fix her?
We did lots of things. The first priority was getting the acid levels down so that the good bacteria could grow.
Before we left for Oklahoma and while we were there, we religiously gave her several doses of Probios each day. She actually really liked it...so we knew she needed it. The vet encouraged us to continue with that, but I wasn't convinced it would make any difference since we were already giving it to her. (This is were it pays to have a good relationship with your vet...you can question him and have open conversations to get to the best treatment for your animal).
We took her off all grain...not that she was eating much. Grain is acidic and was just contributing to the problem. She needed to be on very soft grass. Not hay, because it is too pokey and would just stab the ulcer. Fresh, soft, green grass....in other words...the back yard. We immediately put her on a halter and walked her to the back yard while we finished formulating a plan with the vet. Amazingly, she ate the grass!
We had just cut hay the week before we left, so we sectioned off a portion of the newly growing hay field for her. It would have been nice to keep her on the back yard...but we do have jobs and lives and couldn't stand there all day with her.
We gave her baking soda. Yep...plain old grocery store baking soda. We put it in her water tank and on top of a mineral tub. The baking soda helped to neutralize the acid.
We gave her VitaCharge paste instead of the Probios. The VitaCharge paste contains vitamin B, which also helps to stimulate appetites.
We continued her on Banamine to help control the pain.
We went to OSU Veterinary Hospital for rumen juice. Basically, they gave us a gallon of stomach fluids from a healthy cow for us to put into Angel. We have done this before, so we knew exactly what to do. The good bacteria in the rumen juice is only alive and active for about 24 hours. We gave her half the gallon the first day, the second half of the gallon on day two, and on day three we went and got another gallon of rumen juice.
We knew the first couple of doses of rumen juice would not survive, but by combining all the efforts above, we were slowly able to get her rumen balanced out enough to make forward progress.
It was a long slow process, but after about 3 weeks of babying her stomach, we were able to add a handful of grain back in to her diet.
Why would we even think about adding grain back to her diet? Because she had lost so much weight. We could see her ribs by the time we made it home.
Isaac also had a long talk with our vet and they decided to put her on Niacin. The vet thinks that we should be able to completely eradicate the ulcer with some time on Niacin. We will also continue to use Niacin when she is facing stressful sitituations as a precautionary measure.
About a month before we left for Junior Nationals, we noticed that Angel's hair wasn't growing like it should, even with 2 baths a day. She also had a habit of standing in her water trough...and pooping in it. We knew something wasn't right...we just couldn't figure out what it was.
Looking back throughout Angel's show history, we did notice that she didn't always want to eat or drink as well as Romance. Again, we just attributed it to her being a more finicky cow. However, it is all starting to make some sense now.
The vet in Oklahoma did a great job of keeping her alive. The IV, electrolytes and attempts to keep her hydrated all helped to get her home. Even if we had started all the other treatments out west, I don't know if they would have made much of a difference, because she was still in a stressful environment.
So we have decided a couple of things.
The good news is...Angel is doing great. We did take her to the Ohio State Fair where she won Grand Champion Female in the junior show. Somehow, she gained most of her weight back and was only down about 20 pounds by fair time. She still isn't where we would like her to be, but we know that it is just going to take time and a gentle feed program.
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Hello! I am Heather... the city girl turned mom to manure loving country boys. My husband and I both grew up in the city, but spent weekends visiting grandparents in the country. We are first generation farmers who learn best by almost always doing things the hard way. I hope you enjoy following along with our adventures down on the farm.