“Just a quick question” said Tommy on the other end of the phone.
“I sent a cow up to the factory today and she was detained.
“They said it was for oedema. What did they mean by that?”
I started to explain to Tommy that oedema was a build-up of fluid in the tissues, and that this could be caused by a number of different things.
As it happened, I had actually seen this particular cow myself that morning, during my factory shift, so I knew exactly what this cow looked like.
My colleague on the floor with me that morning had alerted me to the carcass in question, as there was a rather strange tract of oedema following the line of the oesophagus, from the mouth down to the rumen.
I explained this to Tommy, and also that once the affected area of oedema was cut out, then the carcass would probably be fine.
I was intrigued by this case now, and wanted to know more.
Tommy told me he had the vet out with his cow the previous day, and there was a tentative diagnosis of LDA given, due to pinging on the left side when the vet listened there.
The vet wanted to operate on the cow, but Tommy declined, and decided to send his cow to the factory for salvage.
I asked him if anything like a stomach tube had been passed down the oesophagus, or if he had previously dosed the cow with bullets because, I said, the cow must have had a lot of damage done to her oesophagus to produce such a reaction.
Tommy had an eureka moment.
“Stones” he said.
“They are all eating stones and dirt and briars.
“Things are so bad now that the AI man even said it to me that they are all grit in the dung.
“What’s the cause of that?”
I went on to tell Tommy about an article I had written earlier in the year about phosphorous deficiency, and how it affects animals.
I explained to him that in recent times we have seen a drastic decline in the spreading of fertiliser, and that the P in NPK refers to phosphorous.
Tommy said: “Sure, don’t I spread slurry instead?
“Shouldn’t that give them enough phosphorous?”
I explained that if they don’t get phosphorous in at one end, they cannot pass it out at the other end, so the slurry will be deficient in phosphorous.
The manufacturers have also cut down on the amount of phosphorous they put into the concentrates, in order to be competitive.
The fastest way that we can get phosphorous into these cows is by injectable form, so we set a plan in motion to do that.
The thing that fascinates me about this story is the coincidence of my having seen this cow on the factory floor, and my client ringing me about her later in the day.
If that cow had been sent to any other factory, or if I was not on the shift when she came in, then all the information that I was able to give to Tommy would never have been there.
It makes me think that there are surely loads of incidences such as this happening in factories all over the country, and the farmer never gets to know what exactly was wrong with their animal.
With the Beef Health Check system in place, there has been a step in the right direction, but there is an awful lot of additional information that could be recorded and passed back to the farmer.
Maybe some day that will happen.