Haven’t you ever heard of KRUMBAT?
One day while discussing fresh cows with Dr. Tom Hersmen of the Fennimore Veterinary Clinic, I asked how I could remember to check a cow completely out before calling him and coming out to find something simple that I had just overlooked.
“Haven’t you ever heard of RUMBA?” he asked.
I hadn’t. He explained it was an acronym for Rumen, Uterus, Mammary, Breathing, and Abomasum. He said if you check those things first, without finding what’s causing the animal to be sick, then call the Vet.
After much thinking, and conversations with Sarah (Abing) Anderson, former herd manager of Majestic View Dairies, Lancaster, WI, we thought Temperature and Ketosis were important observations to check too. With the hype about antibiotic residues and animal welfare these days, there has never been a better time for herdspeople to step up and provide healthy solutions for our favorite farm animals. We also need to make sure we are treating each individual for the specific disorder she has, rather than trying something and if she doesn’t get better, trying something different. Use KRUMBAT for identifying which disorder your cow may have but work with your local vet for individual treatment. We, as the primary caregivers of our cows, can show consumers of dairy and meat products that we do care about the best interest in our cows, but also in the wholesomeness of the products they are buying in the store.
K for Ketosis
Sarah and I have had many conversations about ketosis. With the increasing energy demands for our high producing cows, ketosis comes to the top of the list. It’s also first as you should check it first because getting a urine sample from an edgy cow can be difficult. To collect a urine sample, simply rub between the vulva and the top of the udder, and the cow (almost always) will release some urine. Sometimes putting a glove on will help because the glove is smoother than your fingers. All you need is a few drops on a keto-stick, wait fifteen seconds and match the color of the strip to the label on the bottle to determine if the cow has high ketone levels or not. Depending on the severity, the cow may need to be drenched with propylene glycol or IVed with Dextrose. Beware, too much can make the cow ‘diabetic’ and she may have continued ketosis problems. B-vitamins increase the cow’s appetite so including them in your treatment regimen may reduce leading to other problems. If you’re seeing a lot of ketosis problems, work with your nutritionist for balancing your dry cow and fresh cow diets.
R for Rumen
R and T can be done together at the same time to hurry you along. Insert the thermometer in the rectum and listen to the rumen with a stethoscope. Listen to the rumen in the triangle-shaped part between the ribs and hip bone and it should feel full. While listening, it should be almost silent, but every 45-60 seconds you should hear what sounds like a building collapsing. During the ‘collapse,’ your hand holding the stethoscope will be pushed out as the rumen contracts. After you hear a healthy rumen, pull out the thermometer and read it.
U for Uterus
Most sick cows are going to be 0-14 days fresh. The cow recently was carrying a calf plus an equal amount of amniotic fluids in her uterus. The uterus is an unbelievable muscle that can stretch from big enough to hold a calf to the tiny thing we put semen in 60 days later. During your exam, check the size of the uterus, discharge, and a foul smell. Retained placentas are expensive for dairies. They usually lead to metritis and fertility problems. Reduced milk production, lowered conception rates, higher days open, and treatment can really add up. There are many protocols, treatments, and antibiotics available to help you clean up the cow’s uterus and get her ready for her next gestation.
M for Mammary
After my tenure at Utah State University, I came home to the family farm. When a cow would be sick, I’d scour her with everything looking for answers, and end up calling the vet. Dr Tom would show up, strip her, and say “mastitis.” Why that was the last place I looked, I don’t know. Mastitis that takes a cow off feed and drops milk production probably isn’t a few flakes or something you’d find with a CMT paddle. Its the nasty, watery, creamy, or smelly mastitis. These cows are usually dehydrated and some end up with DAs or other problems. Not catching these problems soon enough can cause blind quarters or death in a hurry. If you’re seeing a lot of fresh cow mastitis, review your dry cow protocols, vaccinations, and make sure the cows are staying clean and dry year-round.
B for Breathing
Cows with breathing problems can be on many levels. You may have a cow that just seems a little off of milk production and after listening with a stethoscope, you find scratchy lungs or light wheeze. Healthy lungs are hard to hear even with the stethoscope. Move the stethoscope around while you listen on both sides, from the back of the shoulder throughout the lower part of the ribcage on both sides. You may hear healthy lungs in some areas, and you’ll move a little and hear something like “Weezy” from Toy Story. You may have a cow that breathes so heavy you can hear her across the pen like an out-of-shape person that just ran a mile. These cows may need a light anti-inflammatory or a full antibiotic regimen. Make sure to follow labeled instructions and milk and meat residue warnings. Pneumonia problems happen most in the spring and fall when temperatures reach below a cow’s thermal-neutral zone (40-65°F) during the night, and above their TNZ during the day. If you’re seeing a lot of pneumonia issues, make sure your vaccination protocol is up to snuff, and your providing clean dry air for the cows to breathe year-round. Overcrowding and poor ventilation are simple management areas that can reduce lung problems drastically.
A for Abomasum
While you have the stethoscope. Listen to the abomasum as well. You’ll want to listen from about the bottom point of the rumen triangle and a circle below and in front of that point. Tap with one hand and hold the stethoscope with the other. A healthy cow will sound like a heavy THUD but a cow with a displaced Abomasum (DA) with have a ring to it. It will almost sound like dropping a tin can or the sound when you tap a basketball. Most DAs will be on the left side but cows can get right DAs too. If you hear a DA, call the Vet pronto, because she’ll probably need surgery. If you’re seeing a lot of DAs, work with your nutritionist to increase the fiber in the fresh cow ration. I worked on a dairy once that sprinkled dry hay on top of the fresh pen feed every afternoon. I always got yelled at for feeding too much hay, but ironically, there would always be several DAs on Monday after my weekend off.
T for Temperature
Last but definitely not least, or saving the best for last… Temperature. The temperature of a cow is the easiest indicator of a problem. If it’s high (>102.5) she probably has an infection. If it’s low (<100.5) she probably has milk fever, or potentially hardware disease. A sick cow with a normal temp (101.5) probably doesn’t need antibiotics. It’s most likely a nutritional problem and should be fixed in other ways. Carry a clipboard and monitor temps on a daily basis for fresh cows. You may be able to find pneumonia, metritis, or mastitis cow before she even knows it.
Remember to work with your local veterinarian, keep good records, and follow label instructions for herd health supplies you use. Let’s show the world we know what’s best for our animals and combat sick cows with KRUMBAT!