As per our usual modus operandi, no sooner do we get into a new routine with a cow than we have ourselves a nice little inconvenient emergency. This round was bloat.
We thought we’d done what we needed to do in transitioning Ginger from her home fields to ours, but apparently her digestive system thought differently. Rosebud sent a messenger in from morning chores to inform me that something was off, come now. Please.
Ginger, in her normal state, looks like your average milk cow: cadaverously thin, with jutting hipbones that you could shave with. People accustomed to beef cattle (most of those pictures on your milk carton are drawn plump like a beef cow), think that real-life dairy cows are all starving to death. They aren’t; they’re just boney. I personally feel it’s an adaptation that dairy cows voted for in generations past, to prevent boys from wanting to ride them, so that they could graze in peace.
Ginger, on this particular morning, had blown up like a balloon. A very unhappy lopsided balloon with no appetite. I panic-called her owner, who promptly came over, and the vet.
The treatment for bloat, which we were able to administer on the farm ourselves, consists of coaxing 3 or 4 feet of garden hose down the cow’s throat into her stomach, helping her to burp out any pockets of gas, and then pouring in a gallon of mineral oil (which breaks up the bubbles of foamy bloat and acts as a laxative), plus several gallons of water.
May I just observe that cow burps are far, far worse than cow farts. The latter are the joy of prepubescent boys everywhere, for the “Ewww” factor. The former will make you wish you hadn’t eaten breakfast, or indeed, had any sort of food intake for a week.
It took three tries to get everything down. The first hose got chewed completely through, kinked, and thoroughly mangled. Of course, it didn’t occur to me to take pictures until all the excitement was over. Ginger looked huger than ever, but her head was up and she wasn’t acting distressed. She was taken for what seemed like the never-ending walk before we all decided that 94° was just too hot to be coping with all of this in, and turned her back out to pasture.
We checked on her an hour later, and were astounded. Mineral oil as a cure for bloat is amazing. Ginger was back to her gaunt self, grazing happily away, acting like she didn’t know what we were talking about.
This begged a question. Where did all the fluid go that was part of the problem? The primary problem was air, of course, but digestive upsets involve solids as well. Where, in short, was the Poo?
A very short search revealed that Ginger had, for lack of a better phrase, relieved herself in the stable. Or perhaps, deflated. The mess was epic. The terms “blast radius” and “explosive diarrhea” would be entirely appropriate in this context, and indeed, possibly not nearly descriptive or emphatic enough. It is a sign of the depths of our concern for this cow that our first emotion upon seeing the mess was relief. This was closely followed by resignation, a grudging admiration of her capacity, then mild nausea. Fortunately, we own a snow shovel.
Today things appear to be back to normal. I am temporarily impersonating a city mom, and blogging on my phone while my kids play at the park. Rest assured, though; I’m sure this is only temporary.
If you’re curious about the procedure: we took an old garden hose with the ends chopped off, and whacked off about a 12’ length with a pair of pruners. The ends were squared off and all loose pieces trimmed. Our tallest guys held Ginger’s head up so that we had a fairly straight shot down her throat. She’s a remarkably patient cow; every video and article I read on ‘tubing’ a cow involved first putting them into a squeeze chute. I hope we never have to tube Bella, because there’s no way she would hold still!
Two people held onto the halter, and one did his best to thread the hose down her throat. The first 18” is the hardest, because the cow has to swallow the hose and they are understandably reluctant to do so. We held the hose up against her before we started and marked on it where we thought we’d need to reach in order to reach her stomach; this ended up being pretty accurate. Aiming for the center of her mouth, and not letting her get her back teeth on the hose was key to the whole process.
We duct-taped a clean automotive funnel with a filter and a half-gallon capacity to the other end of the hose for the oil and water. The funnel had the additional benefit of amplifying the sound of the burps coming out of her stomach, so that nobody had to hold their ear too close to the end of the hose to hear if air was coming out. While the stench was definitely confirmation that gas was escaping, the flow was intermittent.
While it certainly wasn’t on my list to spend the hottest day of summer inhaling methane and cow stomach acid fumes in the barnyard, I’m very thankful that we know people who can teach us how to do these things!