One little sick cow

There’s nothing sadder-looking than a sick cow.  Unfortunately, I can say that now with some experience.

Cherry, our little Belted Galloway x Lowline steer, has had a bit of a rough week.  Sunday morning we noticed Cherry was spending a lot of time lying down, only getting up from time to time to half-heartedly nibble the grass.  By that afternoon we were having trouble spotting him in the paddocks – he was lying flat in the long grass and wasn’t getting up.

Hoping we were worrying needlessly and Cherry was just having a nap, we took out the molasses and tried to call him over – he ignored us.  So we went over for a closer look.  As we approached,  Cherry struggled to his feet but he didn’t look good.  His eyes were dull and sad, he wasn’t eating, and his movements looked stiff and painful.  It didn’t take an expert to know something was wrong.

Feeling responsible (and, yes, guilty) I did a quick stocktake of what could possibly be wrong with the little guy.  Could it be the dreaded bloat?  Well, we hadn’t changed his diet recently.  There was nothing rich like clover or Lucerne growing in the paddock and we hadn’t given any supplementary hay or grain so it seemed an unlikely culprit. (Well, we’d given them a little bit of molasses but nothing more than a lick a day).  Could it be a poisonous plant he’d eaten?  There weren’t any poisonous plants in the paddocks that we knew of but it was possible we missed something.  But then again, there was heaps of grass, so no real reason for a cow to go looking for something else to chew on…It could be tick.  Possibly.  Or maybe a snake bite?  Who was I kidding?  I didn’t have a clue what the problem was.

Many farmers around here (and probably most other places) don’t usually call the vet for sick cows; economically it’s hard for commercial farmers to justify the expense, and most have several generations of knowledge and experience to draw on to give their cows the best possible care and chance of recovering.  We, on the other hand, are new to all this.  We’re well aware we don’t have much in the way of knowledge and experience when it comes to cows, and we don’t want any animal to suffer because of our own personal shortcomings.  So, after monitoring Cherry over a period of time and seeing no improvement, we called the vet.


The farm is a bit deficient when it comes to cattle handling facilities.  We don’t have cattle yards.  We don’t have a crush.  We don’t have a ramp.    Actually, when it comes to cattle handling facilities, we have none.  That’s fine while the cows are healthy and don’t require any significant handling, but the minute anything goes wrong, that becomes problem.  We had a vet coming to visit, a sick cow, and no way to corral him (the cow that is, not the vet).  However, looking at our sick cow barely able to lift his own head, it was hard to imagine we’d have any problem keeping Cherry confined to a small area for the vet to examine him.  That cow wasn’t moving anywhere….or so we thought….

As it turned out, the vet was delayed for several hours by a complicated case on another farm.  During this time, Cherry began to gingerly get to his feet and attempt a nibble of grass.  As the minutes and hours ticked by, our little red steer grew more and more steady on his feet and began wandering about the paddock.  As relieved as I was to see him feeling a bit better, a part of me was wondering how on earth I was going to get him to hold still for the vet to examine him.

By the time the vet turned up, Cherry was walking about the place looking relatively healthy and in no way like a cow that had, just a few short hours ago, been lying flat out on the ground as if he was about to breathe his last breath.  And would he hold still for the vet to examine him?  Not a chance in the world.

Thankfully, between my description of what had happened and the vet’s visual examination and knowledge of what was going on in the local area, he was reasonably certain Cherry had been suffering from what’s known as “Three Day Sickness.”  Basically it’s a mosquito-borne illness of cattle resulting in roughly three days of sore joints, fever and poor eating, before, in most cases, the cow recovering and carrying on life as usual.  (If you’re interested, here’s a reasonably informative article on Three Day Sickness).

After talking to the vet, I was relieved to hear that: a) Cherry was likely to make a full recovery, and b) Cherry’s illness wasn’t due to some mistake we’d made.  In fact the vet mentioned that, as strange as it sounds, Three Day Sickness tends to affect the strongest, healthiest animals.  Bizarre.

Anyway, I’m just glad Cherry is back to his old self.  Hopefully no more sick cows any time soon.


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