On the Edge of Common Sense
When to Call the Vet
by Baxter Black, DVM
How does a good cowman make the decision when to call the veterinarian?
Most, certainly do not call for professional help at the first sign of trouble. In their defense, I have observed that a new, inexperienced DVM in a dog and cat practice usually knows more about the patient on the exam table than the owner. And the owner acknowledges it.
A new vet in a horse practice also usually knows more about what’s wrong with the sick horse than the owner, although the owner doesn’t acknowledge it. But a new vet making a cow call almost always finds himself behind the learning curve in the presence of a good cattleman. The new cow vet is scrolling through his differential diagnoses, considering Rift Valley Fever, Halogeton poisoning, and Hit-By-Round-Bale feeder, while the cowman has seen pneumonia a thousand times!
Whenever I get a calving call in the middle of the night from a good cowman, I can pretty well bet that my arm will not be the first one up the back of that cow!
Robert had his own slant on when to call the vet. It was all a matter of weighing priorities for this east Kansas cattleman. He had a set of replacement heifers go off feed on Friday. But, he had hired a couple of local boys, rented a Bobcat and dozer and was smack in the middle of pushing out a 1/4 mile hedge row for fence posts and chose to keep pushing.
Two days later all of the heifers were back at the feed bunks,all but one. He sorted her off and treated her with antibiotics. She improved slightly then relapsed. Tuesday he treated her again. The thought occurred to him that now would be a good time to call the vet. But hope springs eternal. Two days later, Thursday, she was severely dehydrated and could hardly stand. Robert called Dr. D who couldn’t come ‘till 10:30. Not soon enough, thought Robert. He called Dr. T who arrived by 9:30.
Dr. T examined the heifer and said he really needed her at the clinic. He suspected something expensive in her abdomen. Robert told Dr. T he felt it was his ethical duty to spend at least $200 on the heifer before she died.
By the time Robert got the heifer to the trailer through the mud, she was down. It took his old horse Roany and the Duramax to get her loaded. Roany climbed aboard, too.
At the vet clinic in the presence of Dr. T, his cage cleaner, vet tech, a drug salesman and a town customer holding a poodle in for a tooth cleaning, Roany skidded the heifer out of the trailer and across the concrete to the exam area. "I probably should have called sooner," said Robert.
"That’s alright," said Dr. T, "But we better hurry if we’re going to spend the allotted $200 while she’s still breathing!"
Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television and also through his books, cds, videos and website, www.baxterblack.com.