By Paul Redmond MVB, MRCVS, Cert DHH
I met Robert recently at a function, and during our brief discussion, he raised the case of a bull that I had seen for him a few years ago.
Robert is in the business of fattening bulls, and on this particular autumn evening, he had rung me about a bull that was thrown down by the ditch.
The light had faded when I arrived, and driving the jeep into the field, I was able to work with the aid of the headlights.
Between listening to the history given to me by Robert, and examining the bull clinically, I came to the conclusion that this bull had eaten too much barley.
As Robert said, “He’s after making a pig of himself!”
The usual story with this is an animal, or animals, break into the grain store, or the door has been inadvertently left open, and they wander in. Having free access to the grain, they don’t know when to stop eating.
The massive amount of starch ingestion leads to the pH of the rumen falling very low. This leads to dehydration, indigestion, stopping of the rumen, acidosis, incoordination, collapse and, quite often, death. About eight to 12 hours after the feed, the signs begin to appear. All these signs depend on the amount of grain consumed. Some animals might just show diarrhoea, while others might be dead when you find them.
There are a lot of blood tests you can do to confirm your diagnosis, but at half past ten on a Friday night, these are not much use to you.
This bull was thrown in by the ditch, and looked like a drunk who had fallen by the wayside. He was unable to get up, and didn’t even want to make the effort.
He was in a difficult position to work with.
My first option was to perform surgery, by opening the rumen on the left side and physically taking out all the contents.
I felt that the conditions did not lend themselves to doing this. The bull would probably become infected.
My other option was to perform rumen lavage, and this was what I decided to do.
I sent Robert for a few big drums of water, and he returned with them on the front of his Volvo loader.
I set to with my stomach tube and pump, and filled the rumen up with water.
On disconnecting the pump, the fluid came back out by gravity flow, and it brought with it an amount of barley.
We continued in this fashion for an hour or so, repetitively washing and flushing out all the grain that we could. Eventually, after maybe 15 flushes, we reached a stage when the water was coming back clear, and I decided to leave the flushing at that for the night. I filled the rumen up with an electrolyte solution to help combat the dehydration, and injected the bull into the vein with relaxants and pain relief.
The following morning, I went back out to see the bull and was delighted to see an improvement in his demeanour.
He was sitting up, in much the same spot where I had left him, but he looked a lot better. He was probably still suffering a bit of a hangover, but was showing interest in his surroundings, which was good.
We gave him more electrolytes and medication that morning and, in truth, he never looked back.
He was up later that day, and put on a diet of straw and silage, and he improved as the days went on.
Robert was delighted with him, and as he said himself, “He went on to make great money”.