Last year was our first summer of dealing with bovine pink eye. Carried by flies and exasperated by tall grass and weeds, pink eye can spread through a herd quickly. The disease is very painful and without treatment, the animal can quickly lose their eyesight. The first signs are a cow or calf that just looks uncomfortable, weeping from an eye which they keep half closed or closed. After a couple of days, the affected eye will turn bright red. Without treatment, the eye turns cloudy and dull and eventually, the cow can lose sight. One of the heifers, Shirley, had pink eye last year. We managed to treat her but not in time, she lost the sight in her left eye.
So in June, pink eye watch begins on the farm. Every day, we walk among the herds, looking at everyone’s eyes for signs of weeping, squinting or the dreaded red eye.
Through the end of June, none of the herd showed any signs. My hopes were high that our ladies, the calves and Shane would be spared this year. Then rolled in numerous summer rains with high humidity, breeding clouds of face flies and encouraging the weeds to grow tall. That first week of July, two of our heifers were struck – Oprah and poor, hapless Shirley. In order to treat cattle out in the field, we use a pump action air gun loaded with a syringe and antibiotics that are appropriately sized for the weight of the animal.
A few days later, Shane the bull began showing signs. His left eye was weepy and he kept the eye half or all of the way closed. Our largest syringe holds 10cc’s, so with Shane weighing a good ton or so, we had to get three darts in him. Luckily, as bulls go, Shane is even tempered and good natured. One dart hit his right butt cheek, and the other two hit the left. Bull’s Eye!! Or maybe that should be Bull’s Butt!
The darts tend stick in their target anywhere between about 5 to 15 minutes. I always wait until they fall out to collect the empty dart so no one steps on or chews on the sharp point. I knew that the three darts in Shane’s thick skin were going to take forever to fall out. So I crept close to the bull as he meandered through the herd, hiding behind the girls until I could get close enough to pull out the darts. Shane did not even flinch!
Two days later during pink eye check, I spotted my prize heifer, Bella’s baby Pearl, lagging behind the herd in obvious discomfort. On closer inspection, I saw the early signs of pink eye.
We made a quick trip back to the shop to gather the dart gun, dart and medication. Bill does the shooting, and I take care of gathering the empty dart. As with most calves, when Pearl felt the dart, she did a little dance and scooted off. Her Mama Bella is a great mama, and followed behind trying to take out the giant “wasp”.
Checking the herd the next day, Pearl was no longer in pain and her eye was completely normal. Success!
The weather has cooperated since early July, still very hot and humid but much less wet, which is fantastic for the cattle although less fantastic for my garden. So far, no more pink eye in the herd. My daily checks will continue because 24 hours can mean the difference between a quickly healing a case of pink eye versus a blind cow.