Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Our Bout with "Colitis X"

(NOTE:  There are some graphic manure photos in this post!)

Wellington was born the night of May 26.  He nursed well, was lively and seemed healthy.  So on May 29 I was shocked to see him produce this manure. . .

When Siobhan stepped in it, I was even more shocked to see what looked like stringy bits of tissue in it.  I emailed our vet, and he responded that it's usually either a little trauma (from something like a bit of hay going through the intestine) or colitis caused by an environmental coliform.  He suggested a long-acting sulfa bolus such as Sustain III along with probiotics.  All I had on had at the time was a tub of Probios powder for cows so I dumped a little scoopful in Wellie's mouth.

The next morning I ran to the Co-op for a tube of Probios and a Sustain III calf bolus.  (Note: There are Sustain III boluses for cattle, too.  It's important to get the right size for calves and to get a bolus gun to fit.)

The Probios has a handy dial that you can rotate to the correct dosage so that once you get the tube in the calf's mouth, you just squeeze the whole dose in at once.  It must taste quite good because Wellie licked at it and swallowed it.  Any little bit that oozed out of his mouth was easily poked back in with a finger.

The Sustain III bolus was a little trickier!  This was my first attempt to give a bolus (Sustain III for calves is blue) with the flimsy plastic bolus gun I bought for $7 at the Co-op.  You can tell Wellie knows something is about to happen that he won't like . . .

I put the bolus in the gun and then poured mineral oil over the bolus and the tip of the gun for lubrication.

I had watched several You-Tube videos about the process first.  I was trying to hold Wellie's head as straight as possible, not so easy when he kept sinking to the ground!  I put a finger in the corner of his mouth to open it and inserted the bolus gun, angling it to the left and back of his throat.  His left!

Then I pushed the plunger and . . . half of it went in and down!  The other half stayed in the gun.

After adding more mineral oil so the bolus would come out of the gun better, I tried again.  That time he spit it out.  The third time proved to be the charm . . .

. . . but I held Wellie's head still and mouth closed to be sure he swallowed it.  The long-acting Sustain III bolus works for three days, so we continued to give him 10 grams of Probios twice a day for the next three days.

And the bloody stools cleared up.

Then at the evening milking on June 5 when Wellie was 10 days old, there was more blood.  The next morning I ran to the Co-op for another bolus and started the Probios again.  I also took a stool sample down to the other vet that is closer to home, but it was negative for anything.  (I have since learned from Dr. Tyree that the things that generally cause blood in stools don't show up in fecal exams.)  The other vet's advice was not to give Wellie any more Sulfa and just to let it go; he was sure he would be fine.  (Too late, since I'd already given it.)

By June 8, Wellie's stools were clear of blood.  This photo is terrible (because my camera accidentally got set to manual focus), but it shows that he was lively.  He had gone from 39 pounds at birth to 65 pounds by one week of age, so I decided not to worry but to keep an eye on him.

By the afternoon of June 11, I was concerned about Wellie.  He looked droopy to me.  He's always very laid back, but he seemed to spend an exceptional amount of time just laying down.  Also, although I wasn't emptying Siobhan out at milking, I was getting more milk than before--over a quart twice a day.

In the afternoon, I emailed Dr. Tyree, asking if I could get him to come for a visit:

"Our bull calf was born 6-6.  Despite two rounds of Sustain III and probiotics, he continues to pass stools with what looks like tissue, intestinal lining, or something although no frank blood lately.  He also spends a lot of time laying down.  I don't know if he's a super laid back calf or if he lacks energy.  I have seen him running around the barnyard, and he went from 39 to 65 lbs. in one week, but I just keep thinking I want you to check him out thoroughly so I decided to quit putting it off.  He's on Siobhan full time & I still get a quart TAD."  

Then at evening milking, I was truly horrified to see Wellie pass this diarrhea.  Of course it was after 6 p.m. when it was going to be difficult to impossible to get hold of a vet!  Why can't animals do that kind of stuff at 9 a.m?!

I took Wellie's temperature (102.7°) and photos to email to Dr. Tyree.  Then I called and left my callback number.

When he called back he said:

1)  Shut the calf away from his mother for 24 hours.

2)  Give him Re-Sorb electrolytes; they are the best.

3)  Give him two Sustain III boluses x 3, three days apart.

4) Put him back on probiotics.

I only had one bolus, so I gave that.  Dr. Tyree said I could add the second one in the morning.

I had a different brand of electrolytes (and all the stores were closed) so I mixed up a quart double strength, using warm water.  Fortunately I had a calf bottle on hand with a lamb nipple which is more Dexter-sized.

Unfortunately, Wellie did not take kindly to the idea of the bottle.  For a few seconds here and there he sucked readily, but not for long.  I found that slightly pulling the nipple away from him sometimes worked to make him actually grab it and suck.  It was quite a struggle, but I managed to get a pint into him.

I left the rest of the electrolytes in a bucket (tied to the wall) and left him for the night.  Poor Kara was sleeping on the back of the house where she could hear Siobhan bawling her discontent all night long!

The morning of June 12 Herb & Kara picked up the Re-Sorb and Sustain III for me while I gave Wellie another 1 1/2 pints of electrolytes and got Siobhan milked out--3 quarts and a cup, and she was still holding some up for Wellie.  As soon as everyone got home, Wellie got his bolus, Probios and Re-Sorb.

But in the late afternoon I found more bloody diarrhea in the stall, and I could hear Wellie grinding his teeth, a sign he was in pain.  By this time I decided that whether I wanted to or not, I was going to have to tube this calf!  So Kara and I watched a couple You-Tube videos for a crash course and headed out to do it.

Tubing a calf is scary!  If you get the tube down the trachea instead of the esophagus, you will drown the calf or give it pneumonia.  It's essential to hold the calf's head tipped down (in this photo the tube was already in when Wellie reared his head up), gently insert the tube down the left side of the mouth into the throat, hopefully with the calf swallowing it, and advance it into the rumen.  We were sure I'd gotten it into the rumen because we could see stomach contents coming up into the bottle, but Wellie was making such horrible strangling noises that I panicked and pulled the tube out.

I could tell that I'd actually had the tube where it belonged, so I tried again, but very little solution went in.  When I pulled the tube back out a bit, it went in better, but Wellie continued to struggle the whole time.  All that I could get in was another pint.  So much for the videos where they get 2 quarts down a calf!  Granted Wellie is smaller than a Holstein, but I knew that a pint wasn't enough to hydrate a calf who hadn't eaten for almost 24 hours.

So I went back in and called Dr. Tyree.  He had a church function with his family that night and needed to leave in an hour, but when I said I wasn't sure we could make it before then, he replied, "I'll wait for you."  Now that's a vet worth having!

This horrible photo of me and wide-eyed Wellie pretty well sums up our hectic 45-mile trip to Dr. Tyree's house with Herb driving through pouring rain and rush hour traffic (Georgia drivers are the worst!) while I hung onto Wellie in the back seat of the truck, trying to help him stay on his feet since he wouldn't lay down.  I have a few deep bruises on my thighs to show that I wasn't completely successful!

When we got there, Dr. Tyree showed me how to tube Wellie (making it look so easy!)  He got another pint of Re-Sorb down him before he bucked his way free from Herb's and my grasp.  At least he wasn't dehydrated; Dr. Tyree said his stomach was still fairly full.  He did have a fever of 103°, though.  Dr. Tyree also said he didn't look too bad, that he's seen calves much sicker with this.  However, they can go downhill very fast once the bloody diarrhea starts, so it was good that we took him.

Dr. Tyree said he has "Colitis X," most likely caused by an environmental coliform such a E-coli or salmonella.  That rang a bell!  I asked if he could have gotten it from drinking out of the duck pond in the barnyard.  All our calves have lived in the barnyard, but Wellie is the first one I've ever noticed drinking from the duck pond this young.  Since that seemed a possible source, we decided to come up with a way to keep Wellie away from the duck pond.

Here's the treatment regimen:

  • A shot of Excede, an antibiotic that lasts for a week.  Dr. Tyree sent a second one home for us to repeat in a week.  Excede is given behind the ear because of the withdrawal period for beef, not that he's going to end up as beef any time soon.
  • 0.5 cc Banamine injection for pain and fever.  We came away with a bottle and extra syringes, to repeat twice a day as long as he needs it.
  • Continue the probiotics twice a day.
  • When we got home we were to give him a syringe of Gentamycin orally.  This broad spectrum antibiotic would kill all the bacteria in his gut.  It also stays in the gut and is not absorbed into the body, so the withdrawal time is not a factor.
  • Three hours later we were to give 10 cc of Probios to re-innoculate his gut with good flora.
  • Keep him off Siobhan overnight, and let him nurse the next morning.  With his tummy full of electrolytes, he would be fine overnight.
Dr. Tyree said that Wellie's prognosis is good.  He's in pretty good shape and he's not dehydrated.  He also commented on what a stocky little guy Wellie is; he looks like he would only weigh 50 lbs. but actually weighs over 70.  And finally, Wellie impressed his vet with his calm and friendly demeanor!  I was awfully proud of how curious he was during the truck ride and how he went over to make friends with Dr. Tyree's dog as soon as he was set down on the ground.  Despite everything he had been through, he didn't try to avoid us.  He sniffed around and tried to taste a leaf, another sign that he's going to do okay.

This is a much happier photo of both Wellie and me during the ride home.  (I call it a "strelfie" because it's a selfie taken in the truck.)  My heart was much lighter, and Wellie was feeling much better!  In fact, he curled up on my lap and went to sleep like a kitten!

The 45 miles heading homeward was such a different journey.  Herb and I talked about how blessed we are with our vet (it was Herb's first time to meet him).  As we passed Harrison Bay  the sunset illuminated the beautiful clouds in a stunning vista.  It started to rain again, and a huge rainbow appeared in front of us.  I took it as a sign of God's blessing, and gave thanks for His grace to our calf through the kindness of Dr. Tyree.

We both marveled at how what started out to be such a hectic run for help with a sick calf had ended up as a peaceful, special time.  We had no idea that a calf could be a lap pet, and we were both so touched by Wellie's sweetness.  We felt privileged to have shared this experience.  

And I was thankful for my sweet husband!  After he worked so hard all day building a frame to unload our new squeeze chute and set it up in the barnyard, when I came running at 6:30 and told him he had to hop in the truck and make a 90-mile round trip to the vet, he never complained.  In fact, he was sitting up there saying what a special time it was!  
It was a pretty special time this morning, too, when Wellie got to come out of isolation and nurse again!  Herb weighed him before he started: 70 lbs.  Look at that little tail go! (And notice that hollow left side where the rumen is.)

In less than three minutes he had drained that rear quarter and started in on another one.

He worked up quite a head of foam!

"You're not going to take me away from Mama again, are you?" he seems to be asking here.

When Wellie slowed down, I took him off Siobhan so he wouldn't gorge himself too full and milked another 1 2/3 cup out.  It was quite amazing to feel the difference in her udder, how much softer all four quarters were now that she had let down the milk for her calf.  It's also quite amazing to see the nice round bulge in his side!

Herb weighed Wellie again:  78 lbs!  At the weight I've been getting for Siobhan's milk, that meant he had just snarfed down a gallon of milk in 10 minutes.

As soon as they were out in the barnyard, Siobhan wanted to be sure it was still her Wellie and give him a good maternal licking.  Then Wellie went back to work and gave her a good licking, too!  He drained every drop of milk that he could, but I didn't make poor Herb weigh him again.

While I had been milking, Herb had been busy setting up a calf-proof duck pond and running a hose to it.

Before I left, I made sure there was a bucket of fresh water by Siobhan's water tank so Wellie has water he can reach.  

There's been no more bloody diarrhea today, although I'm keeping close watch.  When I went to milk Siobhan tonight, Wellie had nursed her so thoroughly that I was out of a job.  Now that's a good sign!

An update on Wellie's treatment and progress was posted here on July 4.


  1. Oh dear! That's awful. The poor little fella.

    1. It was pretty scary, but he's doing so well now!


I LOVE comments so please take a minute and let me know you were here! Sorry I have to use Captcha, but I hope you'll comment anyway! Comments make my day! :)