One of the things a good cowman has to have, besides a good banker, is an early-detection system for determining when an animal is sick.
This is important so you can take corrective measures, either with medicine or by fixing something that's mechanically wrong, like a broken appendage or a cow that's got a pomegranate stuck in her throat. (This was common when I used to feed grocery store produce waste.)
Being a cow mechanic is not like being an auto technician, because you can't hook a cow up to a diagnostic computer. Nor can you ask it questions like an M.D. can.
Being a cow diagnostician is one of the tasks I really enjoy and, in all modesty, I'm quite good at it. For instance, it didn't take me but three sightings to determine that the reason a certain cow wasn't eating was because of one of her horns growing into the side of her face.
My secret to success is I developed my own five-point scoring system to indicate just how sick an animal is:
•This is a cow that walks freely, chews her cud, has no cloudy eyes or snotty nose, runs to the feed truck, tries to kill your dog and charges your horse for no apparent reason. In the sorting alley she hunts you down like a heat-seeking missile.
Somebody's health is in danger here, but it's not the cow's. The cow is so ornery that even the bugs, viruses and bacteria can't stand her. In other words, she's a healthy, normal cow.
•This is what separates the real cow diagnosticians from the cow quacks. When you're out checking on cows, she's the one off by herself, lying on her haunches and reluctant to move. When you feed she doesn't run to the truck, and in your presence she'll act wheezy, cough and display audible bowel complaints.
A novice cowman might think she's sick and take her to the sick pen and spend lots of money on drugs for her. But this cow is not sick. She's a bovine hypochondriac that enjoys being sick. The reason she doesn't run to the feed truck is she wants breakfast in bed, and she knows you'll bring it to her.
Remember back in grade school when you wanted to lay around all day instead of going to school, so when your mom wasn't looking you took the thermometer she stuck in your mouth over an open flame on the stove so you'd have a high temperature? This is what a Type 4 hypochondriac cow does.
Well, sort of.
•This cow comes to the feed truck, but not enthusiastically, and eats and chews her cud slower than her herd mates. By listening to her breathing, you can tell her metabolism has slowed down.
She may constantly swish her tail, kick her stomach or arch her back. The question is, is she puny because she's sick or because she's 15 years old and doesn't have any teeth?
•Now we're talking emergency-room sick. The cow can barely move, her eyes are clouded over, she has dull hair, an emaciated appearance, droopy ears and she plays with her food instead of eating it. The sweat droplets on her muzzle indicate a high temperature.
She's acting all crazy, running all over the place and bumping into things like she may have gotten bit by a rabid skunk. You figure this is serious, and she could be $500 worth of sick. Naturally, you attempt to guide her in the direction of the nearest squeeze chute, but she resists and repeatedly tries to escape.
Two hours later she and your bedraggled horse limp into the corral. It's a self-fulfilling diagnosis – if she wasn't sick before you startled jostling her around, she most certainly is now.
•The cow refuses to get up and hasn't pooped in five days. She pays you hardly any attention when you approach, her eyes are really cloudy, her ears are droopy, there's little sign of a response to external stimuli and she's hardly eaten a bite of the food you brought to her.
She smells kind of funny, too. You're thinking it might be time to call the vet as flies and buzzards circle her body – but it's already too late because your cow is dead.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers may log on to www.LeePittsbooks.com to order any of Lee Pitts’ books. Those with questions or comments for Lee may write to him in care of this publication.