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    First Aid for Cattle

    Authored by Katie Navarra

    It's your job to protect your herd's health and well-being. While cattle are hardy, and often more resilient than other livestock species, they need first aid care when they are sick, having difficulty calving or are suffering from moderate to severe injury.

    A well-stocked first aid kit allows you to respond to minor injuries or illnesses, reduce the risk of a more severe situation and support a full and fast recovery.

    Here’s what you need to know to develop a first aid protocol for your farm.

    Establish a veterinarian on-call

    The number one “to-do” is to stablish a Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship, or VCPR, according to Dr. Adrian A. Barragan, DVM, MS, PhD. Large animal veterinarians are scarce and in short supply nationwide. So, finding a veterinarian who can visit often may be challenging.

    However, Barragan, a Penn State University extension veterinarian and assistant research professor emphasizes the importance of establishing a relationship with a veterinarian who can develop animal health protocols for an operation, prescribe medication, and assist in an emergency.

    "Most of the over the counter (OTC) supplies you can obtain for your operation are not for actually curing the disease but instead to help aid with disease signs," Barragan said. "For example, if an animal has an infection of the uterus, known as metritis, the animal can get dehydrated, and producers can administer isotonic saline solution to aid with this sign; however, this is not going to cure the infection, and veterinary intervention would be needed."

    Having a relationship with a veterinarian does not necessarily mean they must visit every time an animal is sick. But when familiar with your operation, they can develop a protocol for common cases and provide prescriptions as needed.

    “It is never too early to call your veterinarian when dealing with a sick animal,” he said. “There are therapies out there with typically good prognosis, but the outcomes can be less positive when you wait too long.”

    Gather basic first aid kit supplies

    Chances are you have a fully stocked first aid kit for your home, so you should have one for your cattle too. Depending on your operation, you may have other livestock on the farm, and you'll notice the list of supplies is noticeably shorter for cattle than other species but is still necessary to maintain herd health.

    “Cuts would be first on my list of things you might have to respond to.  Respiratory disease, calf scours, and pinkeye can be common as well,” said Eric Bailey, PhD, assistant professor and state beef extension specialist at the University of Missouri.  “Having a plan to treat each of these is important and having access to prescription antibiotics are key to treating these illnesses.”

    Barragan suggests stocking a first aid kit for cattle with the following:

    • Disinfectant solution such as Iodine, Chlorhexidine, Betadine solution or antiseptic wound ointment or spray
    • Mineral oil to alleviate constipation or bloat
    • Laxative boluses—for mild disruption of the gastrointestinal system
    • Oral fluids that contain electrolytes that can help to treat dehydration
    • Calcium boluses to prevent or treat milk fever cases
    • Mild anti-inflammatories medications such as aspirin boluses that can help aid discomfort and inflammation associated with difficult calvings
    • Isotonic saline solution for IV administration in dehydrated animals
    • Latex examination gloves Long-sleeve gloves
    • Obstetric equipment such as obstetric chains and head snare to help cows with dystocia (difficulty calving)

    Barragan said that knowing how to use the equipment, such as obstetric chains and IV needles, properly is as important as having it on hand. Cooperative extension agencies, such as Penn State Extension, frequently offer educational workshops featuring veterinarians who provide training on first aid for cattle and tips for using those supplies.

    Special first aid cases

    According to Barragan’s research, dairy operations can reduce disease risk and improve cow milk production and fertility by administering aspirin during the peri-parturient period. First-calf heifers benefit most when the aspirin is given 14 days before calving. In contrast, cows in their second or later lactation respond best when the anti-inflammatories are given within the first 48 hours after calving.

    “It is important to note that these strategies should be considered as a patching approach while other important management factors are addressed and should not be use as a solely strategy to manage this susceptible group of animals,” he said.

    If you are interested in obtaining more details of these therapies, you can contact Dr. Barragan at axb779@psu.edu.

    Although producers must consider many OTC medications available, antibiotics are needed for treating infectious diseases. For example, OTC pastes, boluses, drenches, and IV fluids are labeled for use to treat the signs of specific diseases but not the actual cause of the disease, which is often achieved with medications that require a veterinary prescription.

    "Organic producers often use these, especially when treating common disease such as mastitis since the producers are limited in what medications they can use," Barragan said. "However, many of these products are not scientifically validated, and therefore, their efficacy treating a condition may be uncertain"

    Weather severe storms

    The increasing frequency of intense storms could pose a danger to your cattle. The University of Florida offers a useful cattle care checklist to help you prepare your animals for a storm and provide care once the storm has passed. These are just a few of the tips included on UF’s website:

    Ahead of the storm:

    • Remove or secure loose objects
    • Move cattle to higher ground if the storm will cause flooding
    • Stockpile water, hay, and feed. Have enough to last at least 72 hours after the storm


    • Inspect your cattle for injuries or sickness
    • Check feed supplies to ensure it is mold free
    • Ensure fences are intact and functioning (if electric) and free of injury-causing debris

    “In most natural disasters, I suspect cuts from flying debris are probably the most common injuries that occur,” said Bailey. “Make sure your first aid kit is up to date and can treat several animals in the herd.”