Victor hobbled quickly ahead of me on three legs, his right front foot swinging in the air. He had escaped through an open gate. Even on three legs, he moved faster than me, but I had to get him back to continue treating his infected hoof. Victor is a 6-month-old, 400-lb, red and white Hereford bull calf who was still nursing.
Three weeks earlier Art Austin was cutting cordwood in one of our pastures and said, “I think that young bull has a broken leg.” A broken leg can be fatal for a four-legged animal, so we quickly moved Victor into the holding pen where I could get a better look at him. Luckily he had a hoof infection-not a broken leg. Cattle, sheep, and goats have cloven hooves. In wet weather, bacteria can get between their two toes causing a painful condition called hoof-rot. This infection wouldn't kill him, but it was severe. Victor would not put any weight on that foot, and his leg was swollen to twice its normal size. I had treated hoof-rot before by applying a salve called “Foot Cure.” Typically this treatment lives up to its name, and a foot is put right in a day, or two...but it was not helping Victor.
I spent the next two weeks on other remedies – soaking his foot in Epsom salts, then copper sulfate, then Kopertox; nothing worked. It was time to seek advice from a hoof and foot specialist – my farrier. Farriers trim livestock hooves every day and usually have more experience with foot problems than a veterinarian. Besides, a farmer who calls the doctor for every little thing will soon be out of business.
So I consulted my farrier who suggested antibiotics for the swelling. For more specific guidance, I sought out a dairy farmer. Dairy farmers have twice-a-day contact with their cows at milking time, and because milk production can be more stressful on an animal than just grazing (like beef cattle do), the dairy farmer is extremely attentive to each cow's health; right down to and including those cloven hooves.
At the Deerfield Fair I discussed Victor's condition with dairyman Ben Marston, who suggested that, besides keeping Victor's hoof clean and dry, I should scrape open the infection and dab on some Oxytetracycline. He had treated one of his cows with a similar problem, and after six weeks the cow was healed. Oxytetracycline comes in a bottle and is supposed to be injected into a muscle, but Ben recommended that I just squirt 2cc's directly into the wound.
So I hosed off Victor's hoof, soaked it, scraped it, and then applied the Oxytetracycline. All along, Victor took exception to my nursing. He would knock over the bucket of Epsom salt water and a couple of times he kicked the Oxytetracycline bottle out of my hand. He would often swing his foot away from me or drop to his knees, hoping I would leave his sore foot alone. Victor was alone in a pen during these twice-daily treatments, but afterward, he got some quality time with his mom.
Despite his best efforts to resist, after three more weeks Victor started to improve. Now the swelling is gone, and with a slight limp, Victor is on his way to full recovery.
Dairy farmers know their cows. I seek their advice, not just for hoof-rot, but for bloat, indigestion or mastitis. They know all kinds of things. One of them even told me why milking stools have only three legs: “Because the cow has the udder.”
I never said they were experts on comedy.