Cow Tales: Bloat | TSLN.com

Cow Tales: Bloat

Kenny Barrett Jr., DVM, MS

For the November 20, 2010 edition of Tri-State Livestock News.

A few months back I was asked to evaluate a chronically bloating feedlot heifer. That’s when things exploded. The client was concerned about the persistent, but yet ever-fluctuating degrees of inflation. A “bloater valve” was in order.

She arrived at the clinic looking like a well-fed dog tick, the kind that goes unnoticed in the crease of an ear for what must be weeks on end. Nevertheless, she seemed to be fairly unhappy with her current state of affairs. She peered through the fence with a high hung pole, legs stiff and nostrils slightly dilated. It is a look every cowhand has observed just before testing the tensile strength of the nearest stranded barrier. Luckily, our facilities were designed to handle sexually frustrated breeding bulls. We gently moved and positioned the four-legged balloon until she stood under the influence of mechanical constraint in the clinic.

At this point she seemed fairly content. We were positioned for surgical preparations on the side. The chute was acting like a set of blinders hanging precariously from the pole of a green-broke colt waiting to be hitched to a wagon for the first time. In part to create a sense of relaxation and in large part for surgeon safety, we administered a low dose of chemical calm. The approach was clipped and scrubbed in preparation for surgical relief from her swollen condition.

All was going well. The skin incision was perfectly executed. The pressurized stomach was securely tacked to the skin, spot welded at each of eight points resembling a perfectly symmetrical hexagon. Looking back, I find the irony of the stop sign symbolism – HALT before proceeding! Look both ways! With self-assurance, I pressed on full steam ahead.

There is no such thing as sterile gastrointestinal surgery, only shades of clean. The rumen of cattle is simply a belly vat of fermenting bacteria. So, with the rumen meticulously adhered to the skin I continued with the incision into the rumen. A small amount of pressurized foam seeped from the incision. The flow began to slow to a sputter, spitting putrid gases into the inhaled air fueling the surgeon on.

A slight cough to clear the airways and onward we pushed. The hole would need to be bigger to remain open through the postoperative swelling. I extended the incision and then “plop,” the patient laid down in the front, joining the ranks of “the most frustrating surgical patients.”

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She reminded me of many over-conditioned feedlot heifers that invariably lay down at some point in the middle of a C-section. Now the perfect stop sign shaped hexagon is hidden behind a wall of metal and flattened into more of a slit. I was confident in my surgical weld, but we needed to continue and finish the procedure. I motioned for a technician to walk towards her head and encourage her to stand again. That was a really bad idea.

The low dose of chemical calm did more to make me feel better than to provide any sense of calm for the heifer. An instant battle of fight-or-flight began to surge forth as my technician crossed in front of her blinders. The heifer surged to life and bolted into an upright position. A column of stomach foam rocketed from the surgical site. It resembled a large rope of uniformly pale silly string streaming forth propelled by a gargantuan abdominal contraction squeezing against the expanded stomach as the heifer leapt to defend herself against her surprise visitor.

The foul liquid blasted forth from the surgical perforation at breath taking speed. I did not have time to respond. The future fecal material blasted me square in the face, filling the part between my lips and reaching back to what I swore were my tonsils. The once corn-and-hay jetted onward out of control like a loose fire hose hitting my wide open eyes that had not yet registered what was happening.

The rancid juices carried partly digested feed under my eyelids, rendering me blind. I just stood there. The contours of my face were level with fetid foam. My clean surgical attire was painted with repulsive rumen contents. An aroma rivaling sewer gas instantly permeated the veterinary clinic. My assistant, frozen in place and paralyzed by laughter, doubled over gasping for polluted air. I stood motionless shrouded in physical blackness, spitting partially digested hay from my mouth.

In time, my technician recovered from her comedic injury and came to my assistance. I was led by the elbow toward the sink. I was able to cleanse myself to third-world standards. A deeper level of hygiene was going to require sandpaper to remove the outer layers of dermis. A small parade of employees had heard the commotion and filed through to observe the battlefield. The foamy skirmish was short-lived but extremely dirty. A quick survey revealed a pond of foul foam in the surgery suite. The heifer was half her original size. But, the surgery must go on. To cut is to cure, and I was going to cure my patient. The enemy forces would later regroup as we pressed onward. But that is a tale for another time.

A few months back I was asked to evaluate a chronically bloating feedlot heifer. That’s when things exploded. The client was concerned about the persistent, but yet ever-fluctuating degrees of inflation. A “bloater valve” was in order.

She arrived at the clinic looking like a well-fed dog tick, the kind that goes unnoticed in the crease of an ear for what must be weeks on end. Nevertheless, she seemed to be fairly unhappy with her current state of affairs. She peered through the fence with a high hung pole, legs stiff and nostrils slightly dilated. It is a look every cowhand has observed just before testing the tensile strength of the nearest stranded barrier. Luckily, our facilities were designed to handle sexually frustrated breeding bulls. We gently moved and positioned the four-legged balloon until she stood under the influence of mechanical constraint in the clinic.

At this point she seemed fairly content. We were positioned for surgical preparations on the side. The chute was acting like a set of blinders hanging precariously from the pole of a green-broke colt waiting to be hitched to a wagon for the first time. In part to create a sense of relaxation and in large part for surgeon safety, we administered a low dose of chemical calm. The approach was clipped and scrubbed in preparation for surgical relief from her swollen condition.

All was going well. The skin incision was perfectly executed. The pressurized stomach was securely tacked to the skin, spot welded at each of eight points resembling a perfectly symmetrical hexagon. Looking back, I find the irony of the stop sign symbolism – HALT before proceeding! Look both ways! With self-assurance, I pressed on full steam ahead.

There is no such thing as sterile gastrointestinal surgery, only shades of clean. The rumen of cattle is simply a belly vat of fermenting bacteria. So, with the rumen meticulously adhered to the skin I continued with the incision into the rumen. A small amount of pressurized foam seeped from the incision. The flow began to slow to a sputter, spitting putrid gases into the inhaled air fueling the surgeon on.

A slight cough to clear the airways and onward we pushed. The hole would need to be bigger to remain open through the postoperative swelling. I extended the incision and then “plop,” the patient laid down in the front, joining the ranks of “the most frustrating surgical patients.”

She reminded me of many over-conditioned feedlot heifers that invariably lay down at some point in the middle of a C-section. Now the perfect stop sign shaped hexagon is hidden behind a wall of metal and flattened into more of a slit. I was confident in my surgical weld, but we needed to continue and finish the procedure. I motioned for a technician to walk towards her head and encourage her to stand again. That was a really bad idea.

The low dose of chemical calm did more to make me feel better than to provide any sense of calm for the heifer. An instant battle of fight-or-flight began to surge forth as my technician crossed in front of her blinders. The heifer surged to life and bolted into an upright position. A column of stomach foam rocketed from the surgical site. It resembled a large rope of uniformly pale silly string streaming forth propelled by a gargantuan abdominal contraction squeezing against the expanded stomach as the heifer leapt to defend herself against her surprise visitor.

The foul liquid blasted forth from the surgical perforation at breath taking speed. I did not have time to respond. The future fecal material blasted me square in the face, filling the part between my lips and reaching back to what I swore were my tonsils. The once corn-and-hay jetted onward out of control like a loose fire hose hitting my wide open eyes that had not yet registered what was happening.

The rancid juices carried partly digested feed under my eyelids, rendering me blind. I just stood there. The contours of my face were level with fetid foam. My clean surgical attire was painted with repulsive rumen contents. An aroma rivaling sewer gas instantly permeated the veterinary clinic. My assistant, frozen in place and paralyzed by laughter, doubled over gasping for polluted air. I stood motionless shrouded in physical blackness, spitting partially digested hay from my mouth.

In time, my technician recovered from her comedic injury and came to my assistance. I was led by the elbow toward the sink. I was able to cleanse myself to third-world standards. A deeper level of hygiene was going to require sandpaper to remove the outer layers of dermis. A small parade of employees had heard the commotion and filed through to observe the battlefield. The foamy skirmish was short-lived but extremely dirty. A quick survey revealed a pond of foul foam in the surgery suite. The heifer was half her original size. But, the surgery must go on. To cut is to cure, and I was going to cure my patient. The enemy forces would later regroup as we pressed onward. But that is a tale for another time.

kenny barrett jr. is a veterinarian at the belle fourche veterinary clinic in belle fourche, sd. do you have questions you would like to see addressed in an upcoming installment of cow tales? send kenny a note at bfvc@live.com with “cow tales” in the subject.

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