Olivia’s Illness


This is Olivia, our Jersey cow. This picture was taken this winter and she has a thick winter coat. She has been very healthy since her illness.

About a month after Cinnamon’s birth, Olivia had a health challenge. Shaen and I came up to milk as usual in the morning. Olivia seemed well. During the evening’s milking, Shaen noticed Olivia’s halter was tight around her face. She seemed to have a swelling under her lower jaw. The swelling seemed sore. Her rumen appeared empty which meant she wasn’t eating. Not eating is a very serious situation for a lactating cow. She wasn’t even sticking out her tongue. She normally would give us a lick. She was also drooling.

When we got home, we pulled out our cattle textbooks. We use Cure Your Own Cattle by Newman Turner and The Barn Guide to Treating Dairy Cows Naturally by Hubert Karreman. The condition Actinomycosis or Wooden Tongue sounded the most like her symptoms. This condition is caused by a puncture from rough forage, wooden splinters, or metal objects.

The next morning her swelling was even worse. Cows have body language. When they don’t feel well, their heads are down like they haven’t any energy. We milked her down. We tried to look at her teeth and she seemed to have trouble swallowing. This explained the drooling.

On June 2, 2011 we called the vet and Dr. Rob Mulligan came down to look at Olivia. He used some very useful tools to handle Olivia since we do not have a squeeze. He used a nose-pincher and a device for opening the cow’s mouth. The vet had his whole forearm down Olivia’s throat trying to find the puncture. He did not find anything inside her mouth. There was a small scar on the outside of her jaw which he probed with a needle hoping to drain an abscess. He could not find the abscess. He thought she had the more fast acting mouth infection called Cellulitis which can be fatal if located in the lower jaw. Unfortunately, antibiotics are the only course of action. The vet gave her an IV of sodium iodide which would help fight any bone infection. We also gave her the first injection of a four day course of antibiotics. By the end of the IV treatment Olivia was eating again!

The biggest mistake we made treating Olivia was not using a three day slow release antibiotic. This left Shaen and I trying to give injections to a 800 pound animal without a squeeze or any of those neat vet tools. The needle was big too. We had to get in 45cc of antibiotics through a cow’s thick hide. Olivia was seriously irritated with us by the third injection. I was really upset too because cows are like two year old children. They can’t be reasoned with and do not understand what is being done to them. They only understand the pain. I was worried we would ruin our milking relationship with Olivia.

By the third injection we had a rolling-eyed cow and only got in part of the injection. The next day, we called in the vet for a second IV of sodium iodide and the last injection of antibiotic. This time Dr. Jason McGillivray came and took a look at Olivia. He had her on the ground, completely immobilized, with a system of ropes and a nose-pincher. Shaen said it was amazing to watch someone handle such a large animal with such skill. The vet thought the infection was old and had come back.

After the second treatment, we milked twice a day but continued discarding the milk. The protocol for antibiotics is to wait 72 hours after ending treatment before using the milk. We waited 96 hours. After the treatment, Olivia seemed well. She still has a small lump on the lower jawbone and she is sore from the injections. She seems to have forgiven us for our treatment and she is milking well.

Later, Shaen called Christine Blake from Wildfire Jersey. She sold Olivia to us. Christine knows all her cows very well and Olivia never had an infection. It appears Olivia picked up an infection since she came to us. We don’t know when or how the infection started. The infection is a bit of a mystery. Dr. Will Winter a vet that hosts a yahoo group called Pastured Livestock Producers stated:

“I would suggest that you look at overall herd health. Obviously you want to get treatment for the sick animal, but I encourage you to look into overall health patterns. Certainly if it is “Wooden Tongue”, an Actinobacillus bacterial infection, then there is a holistic plan of action that will prevent further problems. Wooden Tongue, Lumpy Jaw and Blackleg are all “cousins” of the same pathogen. These pathogens are in the soil in a latent condition on every farm. When circumstances are right, they can infect animals.

You can read about this in Chuck Walters’ great book called Grass, The Forgiveness of Nature. He relates stories from the past wherein they shut down the infectious disease bugs simply by mineralizing the cattle. When all the “immune minerals” were in place there were no infections. Zero Vaccine (vaccine programs can never keep up with the evolving nature of pathogens). Even epidemics were stopped in their tracks. Be sure to check your iron levels in forages or water too, as high iron not only blocks the absorption of the other minerals but it also stimulates many bacteria, including Tuberculosis and Para-TB (Johne’s).”

The supplements we give the cattle are Fertrell minerals, kelp and sea salt. The cattle are on pasture and enjoy eating the Saskatoon Bush leaves (Amelanchier spp.). We supplement the pasture with third-cut alfalfa haylage and hay. Our water system is based off a well with a 3000 gallon old metal holding tank. Normally, we are irrigating so much that the water is clear but with all the rain this spring we haven’t been irrigating. I noticed the cows got a big load of rusty water a week or so before Olivia got sick. Rats. It’s so easy to screw up. We won’t let that happen again. Shaen is going to scrub out the tank as soon as possible. He just has to be careful. Tanks are confined spaces and rust absorbs oxygen.

About two days after Olivia finished her antibiotic treatment, we started noticing that Cinnamon had developed diarrhea. The diarrhea was very liquid and white like scour. We considered giving her a drench of probiotics. We decided to watch Cinnamon’s progress carefully. Cinnamon is a happy, energetic calf so we decided to just observe and not intervene unless necessary. This should be a lesson to all breast feeding women that have had to take a course of antibiotics for some reason.? It is very important to watch your baby’s gut health after a course of antibiotics. In the end, on June 23, 2011 we gave Cinnamon a drench of Custom Probiotics. We used four times the normal adult dose mixed with Olivia’s milk. After that one treatment her diarrhea was gone.