VET’S DIARY: Expect the unexpected for a right load of bulls

As a vet you learn to expect the unexpected. No two days are ever the same and the course of a day can change on a phone call, writes Andrew Sawyer.

You also never cease to be surprised and even after 30 years as a vet you have not seen it all.

A few weeks ago I had one of those days and it was a day of lame bulls. It was not supposed to be, I had planned to get up to date with office work and sorting out paperwork for a pharmaceutical trial that I am conducting. However, my colleague Steve called to say he was tied up with a job that was taking longer than he’d expected and would I take on a couple of his calls. This isn’t uncommon and is the advantage of a practice like ours, when the unexpected happens then someone else can usually step in and continuity of care isn’t disrupted. Small practices don’t have this flexibility and clients can often be kept waiting. Thank goodness for our farm receptionists who are fantastic at distributing the work and making sure us vets are where we need to be when we need to be there!

First up was a massive Charolais who was holding his front left leg out when he walked. Large bulls can be very stubborn and uncooperative so for the safety of both the bull and myself, the farmer and I put him into a crush (for those that don’t know, a crush is a strong stall or cage for holding a large animal safely while they are examined or given veterinary treatment). It’s no small achievement, once in there, to actually get an animal of his size to lift his foot. However, this old boy was quite accommodating and duly raised his foot. I had imagined I would find foul or an infected sole but there was nothing abnormal to find.

Unfortunately, this meant he had sustained an injury higher up the leg, probably in his elbow joint while bulling a cow. Rest and anti-inflammatory injections were prescribed which is not good as he should be working.At this time of year farmers are hoping the bulls are working well without injury or lameness (while the breeders of bulls are hoping the opposite so they get a few last minute sales before the season ends!).

The next call that came in was another lame bull, this time with swollen back legs from the hooves up to the hocks. I had never before seen an infection like it in a bull but it was identical to mud fever in horses. The condition was caused by being in constant wet and muddy conditions (which we all were just a few weeks back!) allowing bacteria to infect the skin on the lower legs.

A good clean of the legs plus antibiotics and anti-inflammatories were prescribed to get him back in action quickly.

The third and final bull of the day was more typical. Again we managed, with a struggle, to get him into a crush. With some effort we managed to lift his front foot and pared it away to find one layer of under-run sole which had been infected earlier in the year and a fresh infection tracking up his heel. This bull will be a bit lame for a while but having opened up the infected areas he should heal. I advised sedating him later in the year after the end of the bulling season to pare and shape all his feet as more than one was overgrown and misshapen.

So after seeing three in one day I thought surely that would be it for a while so I was surprised the following day to see two more that had injured themselves while working. Who would have thought that chasing after females is such a dangerous pastime?