Calf ?

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Well-known member
Jun 3, 2004
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East Texas
Okay, here's a calf mystery for you guys to solve. Calf is two months old, Charolais/Beefmaster cross, and was cut the day he was born. When he was about ten days old, I found him sick with a runny nose, eyes, droopy ears---typical respiratory symptoms. Temp was 103.4 and I treated him with Micotil and some Probios. Two days later he didn't appear any better, so I penned him and checked him again. Temp was 104.9 and he obviously hadn't reponded to the Micotil, so I backed up and hit him with LA200 and a shot of Banamine that time to give him some relief from his temp. That seemed to do the trick.

Until two weeks later. That was branding day for my late calves, so he got branded, poured, Bovishield Gold 5 and Alpha7. He didn't seem too thrifty so I checked his temp again. A little high at 103.8, but it was after being worked, so I just left him up so I could keep an eye on him.

He seemed to be doing okay for a couple of weeks, but I noticed him develping some swelling in his navel. When I penned him that time, his temp was back to 104 and he had an obvious navel infection. I hit him hard with LA200 every 48 hours for three treatments and he responded well. The navel infection cleared up and his temp got back to normal.

Until two weeks later, on Monday of last week. I found him obviously sick and weak. No sign of any navel problems and no sign of anything respiratory---just obviously not feeling too good. I got him up to follow his momma to the pens (about 1/2 mile). He walked into the pens but had a lot of trouble making it. He was wobbling bad and his back legs were really giving him trouble as if he were very weak. He made it into the pens, stumbled and fell, and he hasn't gotten up since.

His temp was 101.9, and I considered that pretty low since it was the middle of the day and because of all the walking he had done. He had a dead smell to him and I felt like he was just almost dead and that's why his temp was so low. I went ahead and gave him a what-the-hell shot of Nuflor, just based on the fact that I knew that he had previously had an infection. I went down there the next morning to drag him off, but he was still alive and his temp was down to 101.5. He still couldn't get up by himself, so we started bottling him since he was too weak to stand up to suck. I gave him a second shot of Nuflor after 48 hours just to be sure it wasn't some type of infection.

His temperature has steadily been going down---this morning it was down to 99.9 and I checked it twice just to be sure. It seems to keep going lower and lower every day and his legs are always cold to the touch, as if he has poor circulation. He has a very good appetite and has never failed to drain a bottle, or even two. He just can't stand up on his own and can't even hold himself up when we help him stand up.

My wife and I get him up and make him stand three times a day for his bottle and try to work his legs some until he gets too weak and tries to lay down. He seems to have more strength in his front legs than his back, but all four will knuckle over when we stand him up. He has some use of his back legs because I've grabbed him by them to drag him around and he can kick at me with both of them, but he doesn't seem to have any control over them while trying to stand.

I guess it's human nature to want to try to correlate these things with previous problems, but I'm just not sure it has anything to do with the other ailments I've treated him for. I thought spinal problem, but there's no visible injury, swelling, etc. anywhere along his spine or in any joint. I can't tell that he's been kicked, stepped on, snakebit, nothing obvious. I really don't feel like my vet would do anything that I haven't done and he's too far gone for me to waste any diagnostic money on. But he's got too good of an appetite for me to quit trying.

I've always felt like a calf or cow will tell me when they're ready to give up, but this one is clear-eyed and hungry all the time. As long as one eats, I've always felt like I could get them over most anything. I hate to give up, but he's running out of time.
Hey, if he's not suffering and is eating, wait it out. All you have to lose is time and milk replacer. Of course, if he begins to suffer, then it has to end.

I hate letting go of a calf that is so da**ed determined to live...there's too many that are so determined to die.

This is a not very scientific WAG, but with the dead smell and dropping temp after the high temp and infection,and the cold to the touch it almost sounds like some form of sepsis or blood poisoning. He's sure lasted a long time if that's what it is though. I would have expected him to have quit eating, organs shut down and be dead by now.
We have had a few calves, that act like they can't stand, weak, uncoordinated, it turned out to be some form of polio, treatable with Vit B, huge doses, if caught early. We get it diagnosed early enough and lost 2 over this. This occurred when we put the calves on gravel bedding for the first time, I always wondered if this didn't have something to do with it, because we stopped using it, and no more calves like this.

Just a thought, maybe some Vit B

:( Possible abscess on liver from infected navel. Tylan is drug
of choice. IM shots , dose by weight. :( prognosis is poor.
Texan i've had more navel problems than usual this year. i believe that all the other problems stem from the navel infection. the odor for sure-- i know exactly what you are talking about! i think that in a lot of cases we may not see any visible signs like joint swelling and stuff but the infection is still having ill effects on the inside. thats why they end up being poor doers most of the time if they do recover.
I have had that smell on ones snakebit but there was always visible signs of a bite area. In case of snakebite pour the Vit C to him.
But from what you said doesn't sound like snake bite.

Please keep us informed because if your stumped I am worried.
Neurological problem as a result of past/previous infections? Possibly? Possible that he may have become a bit septic, which may have caused damage to certain areas of the brain?

My guess is that things originally started with one problem, maybe it was respiratory, maybe it was navel ill that wasn't obvious, who knows. But he's probably got a multitude of problems now -- all secondary infections. I wouldn't begin to guess WHAT the main thing bothering him at the moment is, nor would I want to guess what exactly to do for him. I've had more luck with calves than cows -- on cows, usually once they get to the point yours is at they don't come back. Sounds like a guess, pick, and cross your fingers game. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, minerals, vitamins, etc.... good luck, Texan. ;-)
Some good theories here. Thanks for all the replies. Y'all keep 'em coming. I'll let everybody know what happens. Either way, it won't be long. ;-)

Milkmaid, that's kinda vague, huh? I'll have to admit I'm a little suprised because I expected something more definitive from you. And then I noticed your new location. I guess you're ruined for good now. We can probably forget TAMU vet school. Be sure you get all your shots and jump in the dipping vat before you leave out there. :p
Sorry guy, doesn't sound good. I was given a calf a while ago I posted about that was up and nursing, running around like a normal calf until about 5 days old. He went down and had a lot of the same things you described. I fed that little guy and hauled him around, made leg braces, made a sling, ect, ect, ect. Tried rounds of Nuflor w/ Banamine, followed by rounds of LA200. Long story short a messed with that calf for over a month and he actually grew to the size I could hardly pick him up to turn him over but still no real improvement, I would get one thing fixed and another problem would come up. He kept 'almost' standing so I didn't give up. He finally gave up and would not nurse anymore. I learned a very important lesson that morning. I was rushing amd late to work and tried to tube him by myself - a calf too big for me to hold up on my own but unable to support any of his own weight. It did not work out right and he did not make it.

Anyway, I sure hope yours turns out OK.
Just to update:

The calf died Friday night (single gunshot wound to the head). He had appeared to be making some progress in the last couple of days. He was able to stand for up to ten minutes after we got him up and he seemed to be gaining more strength in his back legs. His temps continued to hover in the 99-100 degree range. Never lost his appetite.

My wife went to give him his bottles Friday night while I was finishing moving some hay. He was sitting up when she went in the pen with him, but flopped over on the ground before she started feeding him. He had done this a couple of times previously, but would always stay up when I propped him back up with his legs under him. This time, he started kicking violently and was having trouble getting his breath and she couldn't get him hunkered back up.

I got there a few minutes later and couldn't find any reason for his shortness of breath. He was gasping for air pretty bad, almost like he was choking. I passed a tube down him with no problem but never could get any air to him. I kept fooling with him for a few more minutes with no progress, so I put him out of his misery.

I'm still unsure what the initial problem was, and even more baffled now. In spite of my curiosity, this was too freaky a deal to throw good money after bad with a post. I agree that posting is certainly the thing to do with multiple unexplained deaths, but I couldn't see anything to be gained here except satisfying curiosity, so I saved my money.

I did gut the calf, however. I was interested in finding out why he had so much trouble breathing, but I looked at some other things, too. I'm sure not an expert, but I got a guy to help me. A Mexican guy that eats a lot of guts. (Eyeballs are his favorite.) I figured if anybody would know what looks normal, he would. :lol: His navel infection appeared to have completely cleared up. Liver and heart both looked normal. I couldn't find anything apparently wrong with his back that would cause any type of paralysis.

Not sure what it was on the outside of his right lung, though. It looked almost like a fresh cut or puncture, but I'm almost certain that we didn't do it. There were no broken ribs in that area to have done it. I'm still mystified. I tried to get a couple of pics. If they turn out okay, I'll try to post one if anybody is interested. Thanks again for all of your replies.
Sorry you lost him Texan, truly.

I would be Very interested in the photos. I had a similar one that I lost to white muscle, or so it was diagnosed as, or complications arising from, - and losing that calf is going to change how we do a few things around here.

Didn't post her either, but never even freakin thought of going in and taking a look myself.( She was a fighter, 2 months and seemingly recovering and bang - relapse ).

Once again , sorry, if anyone could of brought him through I am sure you could have.
i would be interested in the photos too. be sure and label everything! thanks, beefy
Thanks, ALX. You're sure right that we all need to look at every death as an opportunity to make changes. That's good management.

Beefy, I wasn't thinking anything specifically. I really expected to find some lingering infection inside from the navel problem. I was most curious about his breathing problems, though.

I'll try to get some pics when I can get them uploaded. It takes me 15-30 minutes per pic with my dialup. I took advantage of this opportunity to get some good injection site pics, too. Just to help convince the non-believers that we need to give shots in the neck.