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Categories: Diseases and their Remedies

The cow is, more than any other animal, subject to abortion, or

slinking, which takes place at different periods of pregnancy, from half

of the usual time to the seventh, or almost to the eighth month. The

symptoms of the approach of abortion, unless the breeder is very much

among his stock, are not often perceived; or, if perceived, they are

concealed by the person in charge, lest he should be accused of neglect

or im
roper treatment.

The cow is somewhat off her feed--rumination ceases--she is listless and

dull--the milk diminishes or dries up--the motions of the foetus

become more feeble, and at length cease altogether--there is a slight

degree of enlargement of the belly--there is a little staggering in her

walk--when she is down she lies longer than usual, and when she gets up

she stands for a longer time motionless.

As the abortion approaches, a yellow or red glairy fluid runs from the

vagina (this is a symptom, which rarely, or never, deceives) her

breathing becomes laborious and slightly convulsive. The belly has for

several days lost its natural rotundity, and has been evidently

falling,--she begins to moan,--the pulse becomes small, wiry, and

intermittent. At length labor comes on, and is often attended with much

difficulty and danger.

If the abortion has been caused by blows or violence, whether from

brutality, or the animal's having been teased by other cows in season,

or by oxen, the symptoms are more intense. The animal suddenly ceases to

eat and to ruminate--is uneasy, paws the ground, rests her head on the

manger while she is standing, and on her flank when she is lying

down--hemorrhage frequently comes on from the uterus, or when this is

not the case the mouth of that organ is spasmodically contracted. The

throes come on, are distressingly violent, and continue until the womb

is ruptured. If all these circumstances be not observed, still the labor

is protracted and dangerous.

Abortion is sometimes singularly frequent in particular districts, or on

particular farms, appearing to assume an epizooetic or epidemic form.

This has been accounted for in various ways. Some have imagined it to be

contagious. It is, indeed, destructively propagated among the cows, but

this is probably to be explained on a different principle from that of

contagion. The cow is a considerably imaginative animal, and highly

irritable during the period of pregnancy. In abortion, the foetus is

often putrid before it is discharged; and the placenta, or after-birth,

rarely or never follows it, but becomes decomposed, and, as it drops

away in fragments, emits a peculiar and most noisome smell. This smell

seems to be peculiarly annoying to the other cows: they sniff at it and

then run bellowing about. Some sympathetic influence is exercised on

their uterine organs, and in a few days a greater or less number of

those that had pastured together likewise abort. Hence arises the

rapidity with which the foetus is usually taken away and buried

deeply, and far from the cows; and hence the more effectual preventive

of smearing the parts of the cow with tar or stinking oils, in order to

conceal or subdue the smell; and hence, too, the inefficacy, as a

preventive, of removing her to a far-distant pasture.

The pastures on which the blood or inflammatory fever is most prevalent

are those on which the cows oftenest slink their calves. Whatever can

become a source of general excitation and fever is likely, during

pregnancy, to produce inflammation of the womb; or whatever would, under

other circumstances, excite inflammation of almost any organ, has at

that time its injurious effect determined to this particular one.

Every farmer is aware of the injurious effect of the coarse, rank

herbage of low, marshy, and woody countries, and he regards these

districts as the chosen residence of red water; it may be added, that

they are also the chosen residence of abortion. Hard and mineral waters

are justly considered as laying the foundation of many diseases among

cattle, and of abortion among the rest.

Some careful observers have occasionally attributed abortion to

disproportion in size between the male and the female. Farmers were

formerly too fond of selecting a great overgrown bull to serve their

dairy or breeding cows, and many a heifer, or little cow, was seriously

injured; and she either cast her calf, or was lost in parturition. The

breeders of cattle in later years are beginning to act more wisely in

this matter.

Cows that are degenerating into consumption are exceedingly subject to

abortion. They are continually in heat; they rarely become pregnant, or

if they do, a great proportion of them cast their calves. Abortion,

also, often follows a sudden change from poor to luxuriant food. Cows

that have been out, half-starved in the winter, when incautiously turned

on rich pasture in the spring, are too apt to cast their calves from the

undue general or local excitation that is set up. Hence it is, that when

this disposition to abort first appears in a herd, it is naturally in a

cow that has been lately purchased. Fright, from whatever cause, may

produce this trouble. There are singular cases on record of whole herds

of cows slinking their calves after having been terrified by an

unusually violent thunder-storm. Commerce with the bull soon after

conception is also a frequent cause, as well as putrid smells--other

than those already noticed--and the use of a diseased bull. Besides

these tangible causes of abortion, there is the mysterious agency of the

atmosphere. There are certain seasons when abortion is strangely

frequent, and fatal; while at other times it disappears in a manner for

several successive years.

The consequences of premature calving are frequently of a very serious

nature; and even when the case is more favorable, the results are,

nevertheless, very annoying. The animal very soon goes again to heat,

but in a great many cases she fails to become pregnant; she almost

invariably does so, if she is put to the bull during the first heat

after abortion. If she should come in calf again during that season, it

is very probable that at about the same period of gestation, or a little

later, she will again abort: or that when she becomes in calf the

following year, the same fatality will attend her. Some say that this

disposition to cast her young gradually ceases; that if she does

miscarry, it is at a later and still later period of pregnancy; and

that, in about three or four years, she may be depended upon as a

tolerably safe breeder. He, however, would be sadly inattentive to his

own interests who keeps a profitless beast so long.

The calf very rarely lives, and in the majority of cases it is born dead

or putrid. If there should appear to be any chance of saving it, it

should be washed with warm water, carefully dried, and fed frequently

with small quantities of new milk, mixed, according to the apparent

weakness of the animal, either with raw eggs or good gruel; while the

bowels should, if occasion requires, be opened by means of small doses

of castor-oil. If any considerable period is to elapse before the

natural time of pregnancy would have expired, it will usually be

necessary to bring up the little animal entirely by hand.

The treatment of abortion differs but little from that of parturition.

If the farmer has once been tormented by this pest in his dairy, he

should carefully watch the approaching symptoms of casting the calf, and

as soon as he perceives them, should remove the animal from the pasture

to a comfortable cow-house or shed. If the discharge be glairy, but not

offensive, he may hope that the calf is not dead; he will be assured of

this by the motion of the foetus, and then it is possible that the

abortion may still be avoided. He should hasten to bleed her, and that

copiously, in proportion to her age, size, condition, and the state of

excitation in which he may find her; and he should give a dose of physic

immediately after the bleeding. When the physic begins to operate, he

should administer half a drachm of opium and half an ounce of sweet

spirits of nitre. Unless she is in a state of great debility, he should

allow nothing but gruel, and she should be kept as quiet as possible.

By these means he may occasionally allay the general or local irritation

that precedes or causes the abortion, and the cow may yet go to her full


Should, however, the discharge be fetid, the conclusion will be that the

foetus is dead, and must be got rid of, and that as speedily as

possible. Bleeding may even then be requisite if much fever exists; or,

perhaps, if there is debility, some stimulating drink may not be out of

place. In other respects the animal must be treated as if her usual time

of pregnancy had been accomplished.

Much may be done in the way of preventing this habit of abortion among

cows. The foetus must be got rid of immediately. It should be buried

deep, and far from the cow-pasture. Proper means should be taken to

hasten the expulsion of the placenta. A dose of physic should be given;

ergot of rye administered; the hand should be introduced, and an effort

made, cautiously and gently, to detach the placenta; all violence,

however, should be carefully avoided; for considerable and fatal

hemorrhage may be speedily produced. The parts of the cow should be well

washed with a solution of the chloride of lime, which should be injected

up the vagina, and also given internally. In the mean time, and

especially after the expulsion of the placenta, the cow-house should be

well washed with the same solution.

The cow, when beginning to recover, should be fattened and sold. This is

the first and the grand step toward the prevention of abortion, and he

is unwise who does not immediately adopt it. All other means are

comparatively inefficient and worthless. Should the owner be reluctant

to part with her, two months, at least, should pass before she is

permitted to return to her companions. Prudence would probably dictate

that she should never return to them, but be kept, if possible, on some

distant part of the farm.

Abortion having once occurred among the herd, the breeding cows should

be carefully watched. Although they should be well fed, they should not

be suffered to get into too high condition. Unless they are decidedly

poor and weak, they should be bled between the third and fourth months

of pregnancy, and a mild dose of physic administered to each. If the

pest continues to reappear, the owner should most carefully examine how

far any of the causes of abortion that have been detected, may exist on

his farm, and exert himself to thoroughly remove them.

An interesting paper upon this subject may be found in the Veterinary

Review, vol. 1., p. 434, communicated by Prof. Henry Tanner, of Queen's

College, Birmingham, England. As it suggests a theory as to the origin

of this disease which is, to say the least, quite plausible, we transfer

the article:--

"I shall not go into any notice of the general subject of abortion, but

rather restrict my remarks to a cause which is very much overlooked, and

yet which is probably more influential than all other causes combined. I

refer to the growth of ergotized grass-seeds in our pastures.

"The action of ergot of rye (secale cornutum) upon the womb is well

known as an excitant to powerful action, which usually terminates in the

expulsion of the foetus. We have a similar disease appearing on the

seeds of our grasses, but especially on the rye grass, and thus we have

an ergot of the seeds of rye grass produced, possessing similar exciting

powers upon the womb to those produced by the ergot of rye.

"Two conditions are necessary for the production of this ergot upon the

seed of rye grass. The first is, the grass must be allowed to run to

seed; and the second is, that the climate must be favorable for

encouraging the development of the ergot.

"In practice, we find that on land which has been fed on during the

summer, unless it has been grazed with unusual care, much of the grass

throws up seed-stalks and produces seed. In districts where the climate

is humid and rain abundant, as well as in very wet seasons, these seeds

become liable to the growth of this ergot. Cattle appear to eat it with

a relish, and the result is that abortion spreads rapidly through the

herd. Heifers and cows, which, up to the appearance of the ergot, have

held in calf, are excited to cast their calves by consuming it in their

food. The abortion having once commenced, we know that the peculiarly

sensitive condition of the breeding animal will cause its extension,

even where the original cause may not be in operation; but their

combined action renders the loss far more serious. If we add to this the

tendency which an animal receives from her first abortion, to repeat it

when next in calf, we see how seriously the mischief becomes multiplied.

"A somewhat extended observation, added to my own experience, has led me

to the conviction that very much of the loss arising from abortion in

our cows may be traced to the cause I have named. I feel assured the

influence is even more extended than I have stated; for not only would

the foetus be thrown off in its advanced stage, but also in its

earlier growth, thus causing great trouble to breeders of high-bred

stock, the repeated turning of cows to the bull, and at most irregular


"The remedy differs in no respect from the ordinary mode of treatment,

except that it compels a removal of the stock from the influence of the

cause. Much, however, may be done by way of prevention; and this I shall

briefly notice.

"It simply consists in keeping breeding cows and heifers upon land free

from these seeds. Grass which has been grazed during the summer, will

very generally, in a humid climate, have some of this ergotized seed;

but I have not observed it produced before the end of July, or early in

August; and I doubt its existence, to any injurious degree, up to this

time. We may, therefore, consider such ground safe up to this period. If

the breeding stock are then removed to grass land which, having been

mown for this operation is a guaranty against any seeds remaining, it

will seldom, if ever, happen that any injury will result from the

production of ergotized grass later in the season.

"I will not venture to say that such will not appear in some cases where

the grass has been cut early and has been followed by a rapid growth;

but, at any rate, we have grazing land free from this excitant from July

until September; and in the grass which has been mown late, I do not

consider that there is the least fear of ergot's being again formed in

that season. In this manner a farmer may keep grass land for his

breeding stock entirely free from ergotized grass; and, consequently, so

far as this cause is concerned, they will be free from abortion. How far

young heifers may be prejudicially influenced, before they are used for

breeding, by an excitement of the womb, appears to me to be a subject

worthy of some attention on the part of the veterinary profession."