Treating Pinkeye in Calves

This is 'Patches', Clarisse's calf. He was born a few weeks ago. He has pinkeye. We thought we'd gotten ahead of it with the rest of the herd, but patches eye was teary and we didn't want to take any chances. At the first sign of irritation we start treatment. The protocol we follow consists of a booster shot of vitamins A, D, & E,  cod liver oil (administered orally), cleaning the surrounding area with tea tree oil, and spraying the eye with Vetericyn HydroGel Spray  A patch, glued in place over the eye, will fall off in about three weeks.  By that time the eye will be completely healed. Through trial and error, working with our veterinarian for a couple years, this is the treatment that's been most effective for us. Dry weather and tall grass seem to exacerbate pink eye. We aren't milking Clarisse during Patches' healing time. We don't want him stressed. When his eye has recovered,  Clarisse and Patches will be separated at night. She'll be milked first thing in the morning and reunited with Patches during the day time.  The past two summers' weather has been a challenge in more ways than one, but Patches is doing great, now.

Using Tear Mender and old denim Keith makes a patch which he shapes to fit the calves eye.  We buy livestock tag adhesive to adhere the material to the calf.





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I love September. There's still plenty of summer left but the subtle changes are starting to appear. The trees in the timber are a little less green, the pumpkins and butternut squash are ripening while their vines are starting to wither. The apples are turning sweeter with the last blast of hot weather and the bees are busier than ever. Best of all, Clarise had a healthy calf on September 1. Last year she lost her calf to coyotes or, as the vet thought, a large cat because the injuries were consistent with a predator coming down from the trees on top of her. Clarise and Alice, along with their calves, are closer to the barn so they're safe and easy to bring in for milking.

Frostbite, named because she was born in February 2007 which was a very cold February, had a mother who wouldn't stop licking her ears. We tried putting a stocking cap on her to protect her ears but the cow kept on licking them. We tried using bitter apple (it prevents animals from licking a wound) on the calf's ears, the cow kept on licking them anyway. As ridiculous as it sounds we tried using a helmet, socks, foam tubing, just about everything we could think of to keep the cow from licking her calves ears. After a couple days the cow stopped licking them but the tips were frostbitten. The calf lost the tips of her ears so we named her Frostbite. Her ear tag number is 711. Our ear tag numbering system is simple; year of birth, birth order in the herd. The dams number goes on the bottom of the tag, the bulls number on the top. Frostbite was the eleventh calf born in 2007. She's easily identifiable in the herd - she's the cow with the short ears.

Frostbite, second from the left
Frostbite, second from the left


Last week Keith came in the house and asked if I'd make two doses of vaccine for the new calves. I asked which cows calved Keith was pretty sure that Frostbite had twins. We've never had a set of twin calves before. At first he wasn't sure if Frostbite had twins or if a heifer had left her calf behind. Cows always hide their newborn calves. The cow will walk to an area of tall grass and let her calf know that they're not to leave the area unless she comes for them. Amazingly, the calves obey. They'll stay exactly where they're left, not moving, until the cow comes for them. Frostbite hid her calves in two different patches of grass. As Keith watched he figured out they were both hers. When he started walking into the field she looked toward where each was hidden and then walked in the opposite direction to throw Keith off course. Before a cow tries to lead you away from her calves she'll always glance toward them. If you're observant you'll catch her gaze and figure out where she's hidden them.  Keith waited patiently for her to go to her calves. He watched her from a distance so she wouldn't know he was there.  Eventually she went into the tall grass and nudged one calf to nurse. After a few minutes she left this calf, walked across the pasture to another area, and aroused her second calf. Keith showed me where both calves were. We vaccinated, ear tagged, and briefly examined them. Frostbite had a heifer and a bull calf. The heifer calf is a 'freemartin' meaning she'll be infertile. When a cow has a mixed set of twins the female is born chimeric; she starts out with XX chromosomes but acquires an additional XY chromosome in utero from the male twin. Freemartinism is the normal outcome of mixed-sex twins in cattle. Same sex cattle twins aren't effected by this.

After a few days the cows stop hiding her calves. They'll  join the herd and play with the other calves under the watchful eyes of all the cows.


The grass is pretty sparse this spring. The warm weather just got here but it isn't here to stay, yet. A snowy mix of precipitation is forecast for May 2. This is May, isn't it?  The cattle are back on pasture but are moving more frequently to keep them grazing and the new grass from being trampled.  Last night as we were setting up fences I saw one cow off by herself, she went off to have her calf. A few minutes later she delivered a big, healthy heifer. Life is good! When all the cows had been moved Keith went back for the cow and her calf. He ended up carrying the calf because she hadn't been on her feet for more than a few minutes and it was a long walk.


Schroeder-Thomas Splint


Some years spring comes early, calving is uncomplicated. Other years, like this one, spring is nowhere around. Despite the cold temperatures the cows deliver calves. As a precaution we brought the cows into the barn yard where they could get under the shed roof . There's protection from freezing rain or snow here. Under the shed are straw bales and stalk bales for bedding. Round bales of hay fill the feeders under the roof and in the yard outside. Most of their days are spent in the open air, they come in freely when the weather is severe. The calves prefer the open air, too. Laying up against the stalk bales and hay feeders the calves are barely visible. On March 20, the first day of spring, the temperatures in north east Iowa struggled to get past the freezing mark. The calves all tucked themselves into the bedding. The cows standing over them added another layer of protection.

In the morning we noticed a lame calf. His leg was hanging at an awkward angle, loading him into the truck we took him to the vet's office. X-rays confirmed the hind leg was fractured clean through. Our best guess is that he was sleeping in the hay when one of the cows stepped on him.  The vet offered two options; euthanize him or do nothing and let the leg hang. Discouraged, Keith started researching other options. He discovered a description for the Schroeder-Thomas Splint. Keith and I made careful measurements of the calf's leg. From this we drew a template, Keith welded steel rod exactly as  presented in the instructions. The angles of the frame are critical for immobilizing the leg. The vet couldn't have been more supportive. He anesthetized the calf, reset the bone, and padded the splint and taped the leg into the frame. Throughout the procedure the cow bawled incessantly to her calf.

When the leg was set the calf and cow were closed into a quiet area under the shed. So far the calf is adjusting well. He's able to get up and down, nurse, and move (awkwardly at first but he's getting better). He's being supplemented with comfrey to help heal his bones, and Hypericum.

UPDATE:   We've had several questions about the splint and how the calf responded. Here's a picture of a makeshift splint we made for him, to add extra support for the leg, after the Schroeder-Thomas Splint was removed. His leg was wrapped in vet wrap, with a wooden splint placed on the outside femur for support, then it was wrapped in duct tape to secure it. The splint/bandage was replaced every couple days. Eventually it was removed and he was able to keep pace with the herd.

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Tracie from Montana made a few changes to the splint. Here's a link to an updated version  Thanks for sharing, Tracie!