Fixing What's Broken

DCC Ranch e-News #293 - 11-30-22

by Darol Dickinson

I like to watch old western movies. I like Eastwood, Wayne, Peck, and every night Gunsmoke is on at 12 midnight. About one in 5 of these movies has fake Texas Longhorn stampedes. In about one in 20, when the fleeing villain's horse gets a little limp, he just dismounts and blows the horse’s brains out. It may make for emotional Hollywood, but in real life a lame horse could be turned loose and would probably recover in a couple of weeks. Of all the horses shot in movies, some or most would not need to be shot in real life.

On June 8 in 2009, our pretty Watusi two-year-old cow Ieesha, by Kampala, had a calf. The beautiful little bull was white with mahogany specks all over. His sire was Pretoria, and we named him Predator. When Predator was about a month old, Ieesha mysteriously broke her stifle. She was obviously in a lot of pain. The vet said the break was impossible to cast or pin; the humane thing was to "put her down."

Whether for a bandito's horse or a pretty young registered cow, these are hard decisions. People I know have great concern for the health and safety of their livestock. No one wants an animal to suffer, but death is a very final solution.

In veterinary schools, humane decisions are often made and taught. If animals are in pain, the manual for livestock health says to "put them down." Yet, to a fellow who may have a $5000 registered critter, the vet-manual option is not only a "put-down-vet-fee" but a total loss of a potential breeding animal. Thousands of dollars are at stake and no one knows the outcome. Sometimes a decision comes down to a gut feeling.

Here in our pasture, Ieesha was dragging her left hind leg with a beautiful speckled calf nursing. When a decision is just too hard, an emotional one, I ask Linda, because women have instinctive conclusions. I ask, “If you were Ieesha, would you want to be shot, or drag a painful leg and raise one of the prettiest Watusi bull calves during the last months of your life?” Linda said, "Raise the calf." That is motherly thinking.

So we put Ieesha and her calf into a little grass pasture with a pond for the summer— and a huge fat calf was the result. Predator was sold to Dan Hocher for $6500 and became a very huge-horned Watusi bull. Today I am told that Predator’s calves are some of the most sought-after in the Watusi industry. Many have purchased semen from Pretoria wanting to raise another Predator.

This week disaster struck again. Precious, a young DCC Texas Longhorn cow by Saddlehorn, a 3/4 sister to Ultimate cow Saddle Jewell, appeared to have broken her leg. To operate or put her down—the decision wasn’t easy. Our good local vet did not have the facilities to correct the break or X-ray it to determine the damage. This is not unusual. Some equipment is costly and may not be used very often by the average vet. In our case, when a major problem hits at DCC, we take the animal to Ohio State University’s Vet Clinic. Its professionals are over 100 miles west of us, but it has the equipment and lots of students in training to help. Grandson Bry Dickinson, took Precious to Ohio State and here are his photos of the event.

Last week Precious, bred to Iron Span, was as happy as any cow could be. Then she was observed in a lot of pain with a broken hind leg. No one saw it happen. We decided to take her immediately to OSU for repair.

When Precious arrived, she was lying down and given a sedative to make her sleepy and lethargic. She was then placed on a flat transport device and moved into the operating area.

Plenty of students are at a vet college. Hopefully they don't each send an invoice. X-rays showed the break in Precious’s hind leg, so the students and their professor determined how to adjust and cast the broken parts.

A soft cradle was perfect to hold Precious in place for the procedure. Everyone was doing X-rays, injections, opening casting material, and initiating dozens of intricate procedures. Some kind of gray plaster was placed around the broken area to hold it exactly in the correct place for quick healing.

Everything is finished. Precious is rolled out of the operating room, still on oxygen and zonked out. With professionals, this entire process is speedy.

This is the OSU padded recovery room. Precious is waking up. Takes an hour or so.

Now back in the DCC trailer and off to the ranch. She is still weak and sleepy. Once unloaded, she will stay for 8 to 10 weeks in a stall filled deep with shavings. Then the cast will be removed. Today she is eating well and taking it easy.

As the famous song goes, "KNOW WHEN TO HOLD 'EM, AND KNOW WHEN TO FOLD 'EM." A generic commercial cow worth less than a thousand dollars with a broken leg would not be something most ranchers would spend $1000 on. Critters like that could get shot like Hollywood and that, at times, would be the best ending. It is not always an easy call. But spending $1,000 on a registered $10,000 Texas Longhorn cow is a no-brainer. It is the right thing to do.

As fewer large animal vets conveniently practice all over ranchland, going to a state vet clinic is the option we use at DCC. Although some very profitable things happen raising registered cattle, it is always good to be ready to quickly deal with the bad things--and have a grandson ready to load and go.

Photos by Bry Dickinson