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Veterinary Forum November 2009 (Vol 26, No 11)

Most Unusual Case — Cow chases in high places

by Celeste Matthews, DVM

    I was alone, trapped and sitting at the top of a rickety ladder in an old barn. I had been stuck there for about 30 minutes, encouraged to stay put by the enraged Santa Gertrudis cow that was in the stall under me.

    My client, Mr. Smith, had asked me to check the cow because she was lacking normal interest in her newborn calf. I had treated the elder cow several times before, and she had always been reasonably gentle. However, when I entered her stall that day, she ran so fast at me that I had to jump up the ladder to safety.

    The cow appeared to be stark raving mad — she bellowed like a rabid animal and shook slobber in every direction. The poor calf was cringing in the corner, afraid to come near her mother. The crazy cow alternated between making threatening motions toward her calf and menacing me from the bottom of the ladder.

    I did not have my phone, so I did the sensible thing and waited at the top of the ladder for someone to arrive and help.

    After what seemed like an eternity, I heard Mr. Smith's truck approach the barn. He hollered, "Hello," and I answered back. I was glad to be rescued but a little embarrassed at my circumstance. He opened the barn door, and the cow charged at him. This gave me a chance to come down from the ladder and run out the back door to safety.

    By some miracle, Mr. Smith managed to get the cow to chase him into a smaller stall, where he was able to trap the cow and escape from the stall. After the cow had been confined and everyone was safe, my first inclination was to leave with my hide intact, but the pitiful little calf inspired me to try to help his insane mother.

    My first thought was rabies, but Mr. Smith was one of the few farmers in the area who actually vaccinated his cows against the disease.

    I remembered reading that cows with low blood sugar tend to act insane. When you read about it in a book, hypoglycemia in a cow seems like a mild problem. I suspect that the authors of these textbooks have not seen the condition from the top of a ladder.

    From the safety of the main hallway of the barn, I tossed my lariat at the cow's head. To my amazement, I lassoed her. She let out a terrible bawling sound and charged at me, hitting the wall instead. I took this opportunity to tether her to a post. After that, the cow concentrated on trying to get loose rather than trying to kill me, which was an improvement.

    With her head secured, I was able to draw a blood sample for testing. I decided to treat her with some glucose, just in case low blood sugar was the problem. She continued to struggle, rant and rave while I administered the glucose, but when the treatment was through the cow began to quiet down.

    Within 10 minutes, she was standing still. Her eyes no longer seemed to be shooting sparks of fire at me. I removed the tether, she walked over to the feed trough that was in her stall and began to munch a little hay. I guided the calf back to his mom, and rather than attack him, she continued to eat. The calf stood next to his mom and began to feed. It turns out she just needed a little "sugar."

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