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Keep in touch with a veterinarian

With calving and kidding fast approaching, it’s time to talk about veterinarians. For many years we had never needed a veterinarian to assist in a birth. Then last year we had two cesarean sections, one in a cow and one in a goat. We learned that there are things farmers can do to make the veterinarian’s job easier and help facilitate a satisfactory ending.

Most farmers can relate to the horrible sick feeling that occurs when a night-time visit to the barn results in finding your favourite heifer or goat in labour and distress. This is only compounded when you call the vet, who you haven’t called in a year, to discover they aren’t available. They’re out on another call or worse, they’ve retired. Now you must pull out the phone book and start calling veterinarians that don’t know you. And you don’t know them. For us, this is terrifying. Since we have a multi-species farm we have to look for a multi-species veterinarian. Thankfully, we have found a few but since they aren’t easy to find we want to keep them happy.

From our experience, in order to have a positive experience with veterinarians it is important to not wait till things are an emergency before getting in touch. It is also important to have information ready for the vet and ask what they will require from you when they arrive.

Last calving season

Last calving season we had a heifer that was not able to calf. Our regular vet wasn’t available, and our secondary vet was two hours away from our farm when the call reached him. The only other veterinarian we could reach didn’t come on farm calls and we do not take animals to the veterinarian’s clinic if possible. Since we hadn’t left the heifer labouring long before evaluating that the head wouldn’t pass through naturally, our veterinarian on call felt it was acceptable to wait. He advised us to keep her calm, prepare the stall with fresh bedding and have a five-gallon pail of very hot water ready for his arrival. He arrived and was able to get straight to work and deliver a healthy bull calf. He was quite thorough with the aftercare instructions. If this happens again, we’ll be sure to have a paper and pencil is in the barn to record directions.

For a calving emergency the veterinarian doesn’t need the animal’s temperature, but when calling about any other health emergency they will ask for that. The normal temperature for a cow is 100.4 to 103.1 Fahrenheit. Sheep and goats have a body temperature of 102.2 to 104.9 F. This is taken rectally on a restrained animal.

Last kidding season

Last kidding season we also had a caesarean section on one of our does. She was our only Permanent Canadian Champion and was thirteen years old at the time. She had started retaining fluid and when we consulted with the veterinarian he agreed to a farm visit. He warned us that it could mean that we either needed a caesarean or we ran a high risk of losing her and her kids. We had been able to provide temperature and respirations along with breeding dates, and before he arrived he knew this was an emergency situation. After testing to rule out pregnancy toxaemia, the vet deemed a caesarean necessary.

Pregnancy toxaemia is the result of the high-energy demand of multiple foetuses in late pregnancy. The kids require an increasing amount of carbohydrates in the last trimester. Does bearing twins have a 180 per cent higher energy requirement than those with just a single foetus. Does carrying triplets have a 240 per cent greater energy requirement. When this demand exceeds the supply, fat is metabolized into glucose. The metabolic needs of the kids are met at the expense of the dam; this is what causes pregnancy toxemia. To complicate matters, multiple foetuses produce more waste, which means the doe’s kidneys have to work harder and often results in the dam becoming toxic if she does not flush the waste from her system. This is also the scenario for a cow carrying twins.

Our doe delivered two healthy buck kids but one died shortly after.

The biggest difference between a goat and cow c-section is that goats are much more flexible. The cow was easily restrained with a halter and local anaesthetic whereas the goat kept trying to put her head back and see what the veterinarian was doing, possibly contaminating the field. If we have to do this procedure again we will definitely have a person dedicated to keeping the doe’s head controlled.

Multiple veterinarians

There is another reason it is very important for livestock producers to forge a relationship with more than one veterinarian. The government is requiring veterinarians in some provinces to make at least one visit a year in order to prescribe veterinary drugs. In good years producers can have a problem meeting this requirement, so a solid relationship with your veterinarian is crucial for when there is a need.

With our first calf due the beginning of March this year and our goats kidding at the same time, we are praying that these situations do not occur again but in case they do we have already touched base with the veterinarian to make sure what his hours will be this year. It is a good idea to enter their phone numbers on speed dial in case of emergency. It is the little time savers that make it easier to remain calm in times of stress.

Hopefully all will go well this year but if not, at least we know what to do and who to call. †

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