Friday, February 22, 2013

When a Cow Needs Surgery...

How do you know if...and what do you do when...a cow needs surgery?

First of all, here is a short cow anatomy lesson...

Cows have four stomachs....the last one is called the Abomasum.  It normally lies below the rumen, but if for some reason the large rumen is smaller in size than usual, the abomasum can slip out of place and "float" up around the rumen, usually on the cow's left side.  It then gets trapped between the rumen and the wall of the cow's body.  This is called a LDA (left displaced abomasum)  This usually requires veterinary intervention to fix, but typically the cow makes a complete and quick recovery. Less often, it floats to the right (RDA), and this is much more serious.  In farmer lingo, we call this a twist, or a twisted stomach.

If you'd like to read a more detailed, and very easy-to-understand explanation, click here.

What are the symptoms of a twisted stomach?

The cow goes "off feed", usually only picking at some hay, and she might act depressed. Her manure may be "tight', a result of eating mostly hay and not eating her grain.

When does it happen?

Like several other conditions, it usually it happens soon after she freshens.  (you can read more at the link above)

How do we diagnose a twist?

Here, Jim is holding a stethoscope to the cow's side with his right hand, while flicking a finger of his left hand on her side.  If she's "twisted", he will hear a "ping", indicating gas in her displaced abomasum.

What do we do?

Different vets handle twists differently, but our vet operates by making an incision in her right side, putting the abomasum back into it's proper place and stitching it fast to the abdominal wall so that it cannot slip out of place again. We take the cow to the vet's facility where the fifteen minute operation is performed, and then we bring her back home again.

It's a little hard to see here, but how's that for a neat line of stitches?

This particular cow freshened on Saturday morning, had milk fever a day or so later, and twisted on Wednesday.  We do everything we can to keep them eating after calving...we keep lots of good quality dry hay in front of them...we introduce them very slowly to any different feed than they were getting as a dry cow...but sometimes it just happens.

She came back into the barn after surgery and began eating.  This makes us quite watch a surgery cow begin eating again, and now two days later, clean up everything we put in front of her!

Thankfully it doesn't happen often, but...just in case you ever wondered...

Linking up to Farm Girl Friday.


  1. Alica, this is one reason I've never raised a bottle calf here, though they are available, and we would like meat from our own cow... we have very, very few vets around who do cow work... though there are three or four horse vets, and I've always wondered what we would do with a bad problem. I learn so much from your blog!

  2. Wow she has had a rough time of it hasn't she? Yes, I remember that happening. Have you ever noticed this, when I was young the vets seemed so old and then I grew up, now the vet's look like babies. I don't know if you had noticed that or not. :)

  3. Glad to hear you caught it and she's doing well.

  4. Wow I never had this happen here so I did not know any of this thanks for the lesson. We have no where to take our cattle for surgery usually the vet comes to the farm and we turn the barn into a makeshift operating room. We have only had cesareans and thankfully have not had anything like that in over ten years.
    I am so glad she is doing well. It is scary when you think of all that can go wrong. Great post Alica. B

  5. Yes, it does happens although not often at our farm too. They do amazingly well after surgery.

    We have a room to operate on cows right at our farm but for a cesarian, they do it right in the birthing pen while the cow is standing. I have assisted the vet on one occasion. He tried to pull the calf out but had to finally give up.
    Thanks for the informative post.

  6. I'm glad the cow is doing well. After growing up on a dairy and observing and helping vets as a boy, I never wanted to be one. I admire what they do, but I opted for animal nutrition instead!

  7. So glad she is making a speedy recovery. Thank you so much for sharing this information.

  8. Vets are hard working and priceless. It takes real skill to deal with large animals and all that goes with them. I've assisted during cow surgery and it didn't bother me. But when a doctor starts working on a family member I have to not watch or I pass out. Weird.

  9. How fortunate that you have a vet available to help when something like this happens. I'm glad she is doing so well so quickly! Animals are truly resilient when treated in a timely manner! :)

  10. We only had one cow with that condition when we were milking.

    I had lots of milk fever, but most of those cases I could handle myself.

    When you do need the vet, he is a true blessing.

  11. Thanks for sharing! I'm so glad the cow is better now. I've heard of the twisted stomach, but have not had to deal with this point in my limited dairying life. I'm sure I will. We keep a close eye on Maggie when she calves, and will be calving in May! Very excited!

  12. When I did large animal work I did that surgery all the time. I'm pretty small and all of my shirts had blood stains around the left arm pit from reaching in on those big Holsteins. Good job diagnosing it at home first.

    1. I can imagine that was quite a reach! I've watched several times, and it's quite fascinating. How in the world you know what you're feeling in there is beyond me! But then again...I guess that's what you're trained to do! :)

  13. I'm sorry that happened but glad you had a vet too. Come on over to Hibiscus House I have highlighted this post! Thanks for linking up Dolly

  14. Thanks for the post. Glad she is doing well..I worked for a 250 cow dairy that my dad was partnered into and seen several cows get ldas and rdas ...found out it was because when the cow freshened in her feed was switched and was too hot compared to the dry cow ration. Had the nutritionist help us with the new rations and what do u know we had less da's!

  15. Boy cows recover faster than lucky for them.
    We are expecting a foot of snow tonight and tomorrow. Tell Alice to stay put for a couple of days.
    My goodness the weather has been crazy across the country.


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