Just takin' a load off

A veterinary client comes up with an earthy alternative to cow suspension.
May 01, 2012

Cows just lie down sometimes and won't get up. If you work on cows, you know what I'm talking about. In addition to this profound observation, I've also noticed that owners of the cows want the same thing from me every time: Get the cow back up and don't charge much to do it.

I've come to the conclusion that Mayo Clinic couldn't get most of these critters back up. I've tried everything. I've suspended them, rolled them and rubbed them down with various types of cure-all liniments. I've given IV meds slowly and intraperitoneal drugs quickly, and I've tried vitamins, feed supplements, anti-inflammatories, various drenches and Gramma's molasses. None of them work very often.

But this guy, this particular cow owner, he wasn't going to give up. The cow had been down for eight days when he called me. I dread those trips—eight day of 1,200 pounds squishing all the blood out of her muscles? Sheesh. I knew she was hopeless the minute I turned the keys to start my truck.

There she was, lying on her side, bloated like a tick, 10 percent dehydrated and trying her hardest to check out. The owners wanted her back up and didn't want to spend more than $100. Shouldn't be a problem since the call fee to his place was just $65. That left me $35 to perform a miracle.

I ran a couple of bottles of medicine into her, gave her a vitamin injection, told the owner how to feed and water her and explained that the cow's chances were bad because the mere weight of her body was making her muscles less functional by the minute. The owner then began asking how to suspend her to get the weight off the damaged muscles.

I told the tightwad about the companies that made cow-suspending equipment. I went over how they worked and how much they cost, and I told him I'd be happy to come help him hook it up if he got one.

He then began trying to talk me into buying one and letting him borrow it. I had sick animals waiting on me back at the clinic and was in no mood to barter over a piece of equipment that costs more than a used Chevy pickup.

Three days later the tightwad called me back. I could hear the excitement in his voice, and for a brief second I thought he was about to tell me the cow had gotten up. Not the case. "Doc, I figured out a way to get the cow's weight off of her leg muscles," he said. "You're gonna tell me I'm a genius after I explain it to you, and you're gonna want to tell other folks that have a down cow. So I just decided to call and tell ya!" I anticipated something low-cost and goofy. I was right.

"I studied and studied on it. I couldn't figure any way to hang that cow up in the square middle of a pasture with no trees," he said. "So ya know what I did? I dug four deep postholes that went down deeper than her legs were long and just rolled her over into them so that each leg had its own hole. Ain't no weight on them leg muscles anymore. You gotta admit, that's pretty smart."

I rubbed my cap over the top of my head a few times, which is what I often do when I consider how to respond to something stupid. I didn't want to hurt his feelings, but it was obvious to me what the flaw in his master plan was.

"How are you ever gonna get her outta them holes, dude?" I said. "And how are you ever gonna know if she can stand up?" There was silence on the line.

I lectured him about not making that cow suffer and told him I'd be by to check on her the next day. He just muttered something about how he hadn't thought of that and said goodbye.

Dr. Brock owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.