Cattle Checkup – How to Complete a General Cattle Health Exam

February 21, 2024

More Info

Join me in a walk through of how to perform a general cattle health exam and learn some tricks of the trade that I have picked up along the way. This session will cover the basics of what you as a cattle owner can do to look for signs of illness, injury, or other changes in the animal’s health status. You will be utilizing almost all your senses (trust me, tasting is not advised) to see, hear, feel, or smell symptoms your cattle may be experiencing to help you determine what may be happening. With any cattle health concerns, consult with your veterinarian to establish a treatment protocol.  

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Video Transcript

Hello everyone, I am Cora Okkema. I am a dairy educator with Michigan State University Extension. Today, our session will be covering how to complete a general cattle health exam. How this session is going to go is that I have prepared a video where I will be working chute side next to a cow and explaining the different steps of performing a health exam. Let's get this show on the road. Hello, my name is Cora Okkema and I'm a dairy educator with Michigan State University Extension. Today I'm going to be showing you how to do a general cattle health exam to orient yourself to the cow. And when we talk about left and right side, if the cow is facing, with her head toward you, this is going to be her left side and this is going to be her right side. If you are looking at the cow, it's going to flip when I am either bringing the cow in the shoe, just moving her up. I'm always looking over her body condition, but also once I have her in here, I just do a general look over looking at overall fill condition, picking up any clues early on if there's something that I should be concerned about. I'm also looking at her and her hair to see if it is rough, if it's nice and shiny and smooth, or if there are any signs that, say, if she was close to having a heat, that maybe she had hair rubbed off from a standing heat or anything like that. So I'm constantly looking, constantly examining, trying to see if there's anything out of the ordinary that I can just pick up visually before I start my physical examination of her. Before we begin the health exam, I like to get a bucket of all of my tools that I'm going to need prepped and ready to go. That's going to be shot side. If I need to grab anything to start, we're going to have a stethoscope and that can be used to listen to the heart, to lung sounds, to rumen sounds, and to check if we have a DA. Next we have some breeder sleeves, or some long arm sleeves to cover our arm when we need to check manure. Then we have our latex gloves that we want to put on anytime that we're handling any animal fluids such as blood or anything like that, just to protect us from zooonotic diseases and any transmissible bacteria, stuff like that. And then towels if I need to wipe anything down either before I leave her or to check for discharge if she use a fresh cow or we're checking for any of those reproductive issues. And then also ketone strips and that's to check for ketosis and cows through urine analysis. Then if we are unable to collect urine, we also do have a blood sample kit to check for ketones. Then last but not least, we have our thermometer here, which is going to be the very first step that we do whenever we check a cow. Another big piece of working with cattle is going to be human and animal safety. Whenever I get behind a cow, I try my best to let her know that I am doing that and that she can see me and that I am visible, that I am always aware of her movements so that I don't get kicked. Or if I see that she is trying to kick me, that I can move myself out of the way. The same goes for when you're up at the front, towards the head. Always keep an eye on her, see what her head movements are doing so that she doesn't balk you in the head or that you cause her to get very flighty. Right here I have just a glass thermometer that is within the range of 96 degrees up to 110 degrees. We use this as a way to check rectal temps. Just be very careful because this is a glass thermometer and there is a specific way to know how to read this with these. Whether it's habit or not, I just always shake it, then I grab her tail that she knows that I'm here and then insert. Then I always make sure to try and press it up against the internal wall. That's to ensure I get an accurate read. But also you have to be careful Because this is a glass thermometer, they are prone to breaking if you use too much pressure. I just let that sit in there. While that, I'm also looking over her rear side and look to see if there's any obvious injuries, scabs, or raw spots. This girl, she is a fresh cow, which means she's recently caved. And another thing that I'm looking at is discharge sitting on her vulvas. See if we can get you reading. Right now, she's actually sitting at, she's sitting a little high at 13, it looks like. I'm going to just do a second check. An average temperature range for a cow is 113-1025 Anything above that technically indicates a fever. If you want to treat for a fever, consult your veterinarian on the treatment protocol for that. We'll do a recheck. Yep. Once again, she's sitting at that one oh three point. Right. The next thing I'm going to check is for discharge. And you can see here that she actually does have a bit of a tear from when she caved. There's no obvious discharge right here. I also use the towel to see if there's anything obvious, but a lot of it's just manure. That's one thing when you're looking at your cows to be observe it on. If there's any abnormal discharge that's going to be deep red brown color, sometimes even black. If you have a I'd say yellowish thinking like sunshine color but a nice yellowish color coming out, that's clean. Discharge as I like to say that her uterus is cleaning itself out after calving. Another piece that you want to look at when you're examining the cow from the rear is getting a good look at her manure. That is going to indicate a couple things of possibly has blood going through her digestive system. If she well, any other digestive signs that you can get from the manure you put on your full sleeve and then you also put some lube in your hand. And what I like to do is let her know that I'm here and I go in. It's like a triangle mouse. That's just easier for entry. Let me all right, especially with fresh cows, this area is quite tender, just from the calving process. Be mindful of that. Don't be too forceful and work with the cow. When you're in the you can feel in there for obvious signs. You can feel if the manure is really sharp, possibly some corn is not getting broken down properly, then you just get a scoop of menu and then you pull it out. Then you can look to see, just run your fingers through it. This man, I don't have any concerns with. It's not very loose or watery. It has good consistency and texture to it and you can see some pieces of hay coming through there in the forage. Overall, I think this is plenty good for a fresh cow When I am looking at this cow's backside, after I've taken her rectal temperature, after I've checked for any obvious injuries or discharge on her Volvo. I'm also looking at her and her legs. This cow, she's recently been milked. She doesn't have much utter fill going on right now. And if we look, she has good definition between the quarters. You can see that her left side quarter is a bit fuller than her right side. That could just be a difference in utter tissue. If there is swelling that could indicate she might have an infection called mastitis in there. And that would be something that we would need to investigate and possibly treat if it calls for it. I am also looking at her legs and her hoods to see if she is favoring one side or the other or if the scrapes, swelling, any concerns for injury there. And then also I am looking at from between her legs and her utter. If there's a friction spot between those that has caused that skin to rub raw, we call that utter raw or it's also called utter dermatitis. Those are some things to keep an eye out for from the backside. I am currently on the left side of this cow. On this side, I am going to be listening to her rumen, that's going to be checking for a DA, a displaced abomason. But also listening to ruminating sounds, which should be about two to three man movements per minute. And then also going to be listening to her heart and her lungs. I also look at general body condition on this side as well just to see what her stomach, her Rumen Phil is like but also her body condition over her hips and her pins. Right now I'm going to listen to her rumen with your stethoscope. Just remember that this big flat side goes against the cow. I just heard a reman movement at this spot. If you couldn't see, my hand actually moved out. The man is essentially a giant ball of muscle and I just heard another human movement and you can see that my hands getting pushed out, just two movements within this period of time already gives me a good indication that she is ruminating. Her rumen is working. That's also a good sign if you're concerned about a potential DA, but you still always want to check for it. When I'm checking for a DA, I always like to check down here in this area and also up into the area that was that I had the stethoscope. And this is where you would potentially be able to hear for a displaced abomason what that sounds like if you've ever heard the sound of one of those plastic balls that you've either had in gym class or even at Walmart or whatever. It's like that P Sound that's something that you'd want to listen for if you are not confident in detecting for a DA. That is something you can always have your veterinarian teach you and also diagnose for you. Right now, I'm going to show you how I check for it. This is quite a tight space between the this gate in the wall. I'm constantly just the cow knows that I'm here, but also making sure if I need to get out, I always have a safe place to move. Before I touch her with my stethoscope, I'm letting her know that I'm here. I'm also using just good practices of personal safety. And I'm very leery to stick my hand between 2 bars, especially if I have to touch her because she's constantly moving and I don't want my hand to be squished. A lot of times I just go over the top. If I'm listening, you use your finger to flick her side and don't worry about being too rough with it because the big thing is you want to hear that pinging sound which is going to be that gas build up in the Abo Mason. What happened right there where I had my hand way up here and adjusting the stethoscope is I couldn't hear my impacts with my finger through the stethoscope. And that's where I readjusted to make sure I could hear what I was doing and possibly detecting the DA. I didn't hear anything on her. With her having really solid rumination sounds, I wasn't too concerned with that now to listen to her heart. This is where it's going to be. With this set up, a little tricky, just for the human safety side, what you're going to want to do is with her front leg, you're going to have to sit right in here to listen to the heart. We'll see if she'll let me do that. This is something, if you're not comfortable doing it, focus on your safety first. Because you can always have a veterinarian come out and do this for you. And so that's just where I'm always watching what she's doing. Whether if she might kick me or she might u right there. I'm hearing really solid heart sounds. Definitely take some time just to get yourself acclimated to the sound of a healthy cow heart so that you can detect possibly an abnormal sounds. If you are concerned with that, abnormal heart sounds could be from pericarditis, any infections that do affect the heart itself or also the sac around the heart as any brisket diseases can really affect the heart. Now, for the lungs, for the lung sounds can be tricky to first detect and then get used to. It's really that whooshing sound of clear air movement. If you hear either what I say dead air, no movement, or just short broken up air flow, that'd be concerned for respiratory problems. But there also potentially be other indication of respiratory issues like coughing, nasal discharge, stuff like that. All right. From what I heard, she had really clear air flow. I think I took maybe 10 seconds of one finding the right spot, but two, just focusing on listening into that sounds with my eye, watching her breathe as well to help me zone into the sound that I was looking for. She's good on this side, on the right side. I am also going to be looking over her general body condition at overall rib fill and then also from her hips to her pins. Looking at the fill in this area, see if there's any signs of outward abscesses or injuries or any obvious signs of concern with her. I'm also looking at her legs and hooves again to see if one, she's favoring one leg or the other, but also for any swelling, any injuries. And then also looking at just her barrel right here to see if there are any concerns with her milk vein or any other potential injuries, issues that can come from that area. I'm also looking at her utter to see if there are any signs of that utter rot, but also any signs of swelling or injury. For this portion of the video, we're going to be going over examining an utter and learning how to see visual signs of mastitis, which is a infection within the utter itself. It can be caused by a few different types of organisms and you'll be able to access some resources later on with more information on that. This cow right here, she has a blue band on which on this farm stands for. She has recently had a calf. You can see visually that she does have some swelling in her udder. That's actually from edema. That's not an infectious related swelling. When I'm looking over this cow, I'm also seeing if there are any signs of potential injury or trauma to the teats and the T, N, whether that be swelling, bruising, and also the overall health and cleanliness of her udder. And you can see just on the cleanliness of her legs and her udder that that their environment is well maintained for her. When I am looking for visual or tactile signs of a potential mastitis infection, I always look and feel the utter itself. Remember that cows run 113-102 0.5 degrees. They are quite warm already compared to what a normal human temperature is. They're going to feel warm for mastitis, you're just like when someone has a fever or they're running hot, you're going to be able to tell it right away. Oh wow, that's quite warm feeling that also touching to see the hardness of her utter as well with the edema. That feels quite different than from an infection, swelling with that. And you could, it's very much a trained skill and with over time and experience, you understand those differences with this too. I'm also looking at her teats, I'm looking at the cleanliness, I'm looking at the N's, once again looking for any bruising, any signs of injury, and also looking for that utter cleft dermatitis that might happen right here in between her leg and her utter. I mentioned before that this cow has utter edema. How I can see that quite clearly is she has quite amount of fluid right along her barrel where with the force of gravity, that fluid has dropped and collected here. And she also has quite a bit of swelling up in this front area. If I press, you see that there's a depression. That's a quick and easy way to tell that cow has edema in that area. You can also see it here where she has quite a bit of swelling on this side as well. If I were to do that same thing, you can see that there is that depression right there from my thumb. I am examining the ***** here and I notice on this one that some words are present. I'm also looking at the S to see if there are any signs of hyperkeratosis, which can increase a cow's likelihood of getting mastitis in the future. I'm also looking for any signs of injury or bruising or trauma. This is a video panning from the front to the rear of the utter. You can see how the swelling presents and what this cow's utter looks like. I also have another cow here who is not showing the same signs of edema as this first one. You can see that she has clear definition of some of her vascular system of her udders. Her udder looks quite different, especially from the rear. You can see she has a medial cleft ligament depression right in between her two quarters. Also, she doesn't have that swelling towards the front of the cow. This is where I'm going to be checking out her head and her neck and seeing if there are any abnormalities just in how she is presenting with her ears, her eyes, her nose, her breathing. Right now, this cow here, I'm first looking at her ears. They are pretty plain or straight across. That's a good indication that she's feeling all right. Also I am looking at her eyes. They're not glossed over, they're not dull, they're not sunken in, they're nice and bright and shiny. That's also a good indication that she is not unwell. Then another thing is when I look at her nose, if it's dry, that could be an indication that she's experiencing an immune challenge or possibly something respiratory, her overall general behavior and attitude. She not being very lively at the moment, but she is being quite expressive so that we know that she doesn't really have a depressed mood as well as well. All right, I have tied this cow's head so that we can clearly access her neck vein here. When you are trying to find that you want to pull their head back so that you can see this beautiful jugular groove right here. I like using a head lamp just because it gives me clear access to light and a dedicated light so I can see what I'm doing and where I need it to be. I get down to this point. And this is also why it's very important to have her head securely tied back so that she can't throw her head and potentially injure. You see that's exactly it. You see this nice jugular groove as it sits in here. It'll be this area. It'll be that area where you're going to be looking for her jugular vein. What I do is I put my hand down to this low point here, then then I push my hand back. And if you can see this nice bubble that's happening right in here, if I'm doing that, that means I've found that vein. You'll also be able to feel the pressure build up against your fingers right here. If I let that go, you see that go, and then it just falls back to normal to properly remove gloves. First you're going to pinch the middle of one glove, Hook two fingers in there to help you pull that glove off of your hand. And then you're going to ball up that dirty glove in your other hand. And then you take two fingers and slide it under the glove that you still have on hook those fingers and pull downward to pull off the second glove. And there you go. I would like to thank you all for watching this video on performing a general cattle health exam. If you have any questions afterward, please feel free to contact me. On the screen is my e mail, my work phone, and if you scan the QR code, you will also be able to access all of that information as well and be able to save it right into your phone once again, thank you so much. And it was a pleasure making this video, and I'm glad you could join me along for the ride. All right, that concludes the video presentation for this session. Now I am opening myself up to any questions. If anybody has something they'd like to ask something they would like clarification on, I am more than happy to answer it. I had a question. How can I tell if my cows have cattle lice? I heard it's going around at the exchange, but don't know what to look for for this specifically. That could be a few different things. Once again, I am not a licensed veterinarian and so I can't I can't provide a diagnosis or anything, so it could be mites which might be going around. But once again, I haven't heard of that situation. It hasn't come across my desk or anything. That might be something to talk with a veterinarian with, just to get an idea of what to look for, whether it might be. Almost my main spots, yeah. I'd say talk with a veterinarian and see if they've heard anything about it. I also utilize the Merck Veterinary manual. There's one online. Some of the sections do provide some photos for references. That's been a useful tool when I've used the grand scape of Googled to research a few things. Yeah, that's another great question. How are cow hooves supposed to look? For this video, I didn't go too depth into the cow hoof piece within that chute set up. I did not have a great way to safely pull up the hooves and show show what those hooves look like and also what I'd almost say recently trimmed hooves look like. That's something I can certainly follow up with you on. If you reach out to me personally, I can get you some really good resources. There are also a number of hoof trimmers within the state of Michigan. Sometimes veterinarians can trim hooves. But there are also a number of hoof trimming schools where if that's something you'd like to learn personally, that is an option. I'm certainly happy to follow up with you on that and go into a little bit more of the anatomy of a hoof and what to look for on that. Yeah, that's a really good question. How can I tell if my cow is in pain? It's definitely, it can be tricky, it can be very situation dependent. That's something where for older cattle, if they're up and standing, you can do what's called a withers check, which let me see if I can find a spot through the video. In that video it would be if you can see where I'm circling on this picture, this spot here. If you would push down on that and you see that they react, that's a quick indicator. Another good tool is what we call a face grimace score. That is once again, animal behavior piece that is learned where the animals behavior would deviate from their normal presentation. And it is very difficult with cattle, because they are prey animals, they're not very likely to show pain. They're going to hide it as much as possible because that is a defense mechanism against predators. As humans, we have as much of a bond as possible with these animals, but they're still going to follow their natural instincts and try to hide that pain. I've had it where this story was shared with me where an individual had cattle, and it wasn't until that person actually hid behind a building and was watching their animals that they finally saw an animal actually start limping. And that's something where cattle are going to typically try to hide their pain. But for young animals, sometimes it's associated or paired with going off of feed. Not being as active as they normally are, not showing as much like play behavior or running around. Usually it's a paired with a couple of other signs. Yes. Okay. Probably the section that I was pointing to, if you look at where the cow's front legs are, pretty much go straight straight up to the top of their back. That's typically where the withers sit and that's where you can press on to see, it's typically like a pressure reaction where if you press and move away from that pressure, that's a that's an offhand test. It's called the withers test, where it's that can indicate pain. Once again, that pain in cattle can be associated with or paired with a few other behavioral signs. That's something where it does come with practice. It also comes with really knowing your animals. But sometimes too, we get a little bit of blindness because we work with these animals so closely. Sometimes it's really helpful to get a second set of eyes to let us know if, hey, there's something that's not right. Or something is like, oh, hey, we should look into this a little bit more. My phone number and email are visible on the screen if you have any questions, whether it's like I said, I'm a dairy educator, but I have plenty of contacts with beef folks in the area, so any questions that you have, more than happy to help utilize me as a resource to answer any questions you have, cattle related or not, I'm more than happy to help. Once again, thank you all so very much. I appreciate your attendance and your interaction with this and I hope you all have a great and wonderful evening. And I hope to see you all in some of our later sessions. Have a good night.