Need a Hot Shot

Written by Dr. Wayne Kyle.

I received a call from a man in the Logan community one winter day with a concern about his cow that was "poisoned on dry peas." He had a building where he had stored peas gathered the previous fall for planting the next spring, and this old cow had somehow gotten the door to this storage area open and had apparently eaten a pretty good bait of them. He had afterwards found the cow down, laying flat over on her side and unable to sit up. He told me over the telephone that she was really "gassed up bad" and that he needed me real soon because he was afraid that she was going to die. Well, I knew that this was a real emergency, because if a cow is lying completely down on her side she will be unable to expel the gas accumulating in her first stomach. Methane gas naturally forms in the first stomach (rumen) from fermentation of grass or other vegetation that cattle normally eat, and that cow will belch about every two to four minutes to expel the gas that forms there to prevent the bloating. It is always a reassuring sign that a cow's stomach is functioning properly when you hear her belch regularly. I knew that I needed to get to her pretty soon because that bloating would continue and with the increasing pressure in her abdomen she would very quickly be unable to breathe. The owner was really excited and wanted me to hurry!!

I called my main helper, Travis Owens, and told him to go with me because I didn't know what kind of help I would find over there. We jumped in my truck and took off to Logan, Texas. Logan is a community right on the Louisiana state line about 25 miles east of Carthage. Travis was used to my driving skills; therefore, he wasn't saying anything about how fast we were going over those county roads. He just held on. I stopped in downtown Logan at Mr. Buster McMellon's store to get directions to the cow owner's house. Mr. and Mrs. McMellon knew everybody, so they were the very best source of information on anybody in that area and could give you more data than you really needed sometimes. They told me exactly how to get to the man's house and we foundĀ  him and his neighbor standing out beside his house anxiously waiting.

We found the old cow up in a scope of woods behind the man's house in just about the condition that he had described. He was really going on and on about all those dried peas that this poor cow must have eaten and was reminding me about how once a cow ate all that stuff and then drank a lot of water how fast they could die from that poisoning. He said that she had a baby calf about a week old and that he was concerned about it too. I put my rope on her and fixed a halter hitch on her head so that I could pull her up without choking and with Travis' help got her up into a sitting position. She was very weak and in a deep coma. I determined that she had hypocalcemia or low blood calcium (milk fever). The owner was so sure of the cause of this animal's problem, I was not going to dispute his assessment, so I just went to work administering my calcium/glucose medicine intravenously. Once the intravenous medication began to elevate the calcium in the blood, this old cow began to revive a little, began to belch and expel the excess gas from her rumen and in general to become more alert. By the time I had finished giving my calcium she was holding her head up and sitting up in a normal position on her own. I removed the rope from her head and waited a little while to give her a chance to get some strength and muscle tone back. After a bit I slapped her on the rump and tried to make her get up, but she just sat there and wouldn't try to move at all (typical Jersey cow). The owner just stood by in silence and had a somewhat doubtful attitude about himself; therefore, I really needed this old cow to stand up or otherwise he would not believe that she was all right. I turned to Travis and said, "Travis, go get that hotshot out of the truck." A hotshot cattle prod is a battery powered device that will deliver a mild electric stimulus when applied to an animal and is commonly used when working cattle down crowded chutes or loading in trailers, etc. When Travis came back with the cattle prod, I said, "Now I'm going to take hold of her tail, and when I tellĀ  you, I want you to hit her with that hotshot." I have to tell you at this point that my cow had laid there so long that she had defecated quite a lot and had a large amount of manure all over her tail and on the ground behind her which made her tail quite slippery under the grasp of my hands. When I told Travis to give her the shock, she let out a loud bellow and jumped up, my hold on her tail slipped off and I fell smack down in that big pile of manure on the ground. At the same time the owner's two little fox terrier dogs went to barking at the cow and she took running down through those woods, brush and bushes breaking and crashing, the dogs barking after her, her still bellowing, and they all just disappeared into the distance. Here's Travis just rolling practically and laughing at me covered with manure and the two old men standing there with their mouths hanging open. Finally the owner turned to his friend and said, "Hi God, we got to get us one of them hotshots!"