I have to give credit to my daughter Rose who took this lovely picture of me and Matilda at milking time. This is how our mornings always begin.
It’s been a busy week, and it all started when one of my milk cows named Chestnut (because of her beautiful brown coat and prickly personality) came down one morning with an unusual swelling under her belly. It wasn’t her milk veins, and though i suspected a snake bite right away, i couldn’t find any punctures or wounds anywhere. This is apparently typical of a snake bites. The swelling seals up the bite marks.
It was during one of the warm spells, when the cows were off wandering the farthest grazing lines, and was most likely one of the very large rattlesnakes that lounge around in sunny spots up there near the gopher tortoise burrows.
Cows are such large animals that the venom doesn’t kill them. The biggest concern is the swelling that might block the airway if the bite is on the face or throat, so this wasn’t a problem on her belly.
It got larger and larger and more and more swollen until it burst and i could see the double bite wounds. Not only was it incredibly disgusting and a very dangerous wound with necrotic tissue (The venom contains enzymes which break down and digest flesh), but Chestnut is also not the tamest of milk cows.
I just went to a friend’s farm a couple days ago to help with a newly calved mama Jersey with a swollen udder. I couldn’t believe the cow just stood in place placidly eating the whole time while we squeezed and massaged her udder. I don’t have cows like that.
My cows are all huge and half-wild with an evil look and enormous horns they swing around. It looks like a bull fight when they come down for milking, eyes bulging and black-tipped horns tossing as the ground trembles under their flying hooves. This is just because they are happy and excited about being milked, but sometimes i think no one in their right mind would actually try to milk them.
The biggest challenge was taking care of a nasty wound on an animal that tries to tear down the milking shed if she runs out of food. It badly need squeezed out, but good luck surviving doing something like that to Chestnut.
My biggest concerns were:
1. Tetanus, which thrives in deep or puncture wounds with necrotic tissue. I guess a regular dairy, if their cow ever was able to get bitten by a snake, would give a tetanus vaccine and feel happy. Unfortunately, in reality the tetanus shot (at least for ruminants) is not very effective and vaccinated animals still develop tetanus in this kind of situation.
2. Infection. This could easily become a really bad infection that kills the animal. I never use antibiotics on my herd (even if i did, how would i survive injecting something several times a day for a week into Chestnut’s butt without the accompanying tranquilizer gun?).
3. Fly Strike. I feel bad mentioning this, because most city folk live in blissful ignorance of this horror of horrors. It is from a specific kind of fly, and it ends up with maggots wiggling all over and inside of a wound, eating an animal alive. I have nightmares about it sometimes. Its one of those things where you’re just never the same ever again after you have to deal with it.
The treatment I came up with was as follows:
1. Initially a plaster of clay and turmeric paste to help draw out the venom (I slapped it on and jumped away)
2. Hepar Sulph homeopathic to help the bite drain.
3. High doses of vitamin C both in her food as well as using it to irrigate the wound. Vitamin C treats and prevents infection, is very effective in detoxifying the flesh-destroying enzymes of the venom, and breaks down tetanus toxin.
There is quite a bit of research on vitamin c as a very fast and effective tetanus cure. The tetanus toxin, close chemically to strycnine, is rendered harmless by high doses of vitamin c. The Australian vet and farmer Pat Colby says she has seen an injection of vitamin c unlock the jaws of tetanus-stricken goats in 5 minutes.
4. Echinacea tincture. I used it on the wound as well as in her food. Echinacea is specific against bacterial infections, especially those in the blood, and is anti-venom. It is said to be an effective remedy for humans against venomous snake bites. I have used it on myself for persistent sinus infections, and for assassin bug bites with great success.
5. Epsom salts. To help with gently drawing things out and to keep the wound clean
6. Tea tree oil. I used this very moderately, mostly to reduce the smell, as fly strike flies are attracted to the smells of bad wounds.
Twice a day I irrigated the wound with a mixture of warm water, Epsom salt, sodium ascorbate, and Echinacea tincture and maybe a few drops of tea tree. I used a spray bottle and got fairly close (just out of kick range) when she was clipped into the milking stand in the morning.
In the evening i would chase her around the pasture with the spray bottle, which was almost more effective because trotting made everything drain better. I kept a very close look out for flies, and always sprayed off the whole area thoroughly to keep the smell down and keep it clean.
The spraying also had the same good effects of soaking a wound – it kept it clean, open, and draining and helped it heal from the inside out.
Chestnut still has some healing to do, but the infection is cleared up, her body has cleared away the venom and necrotic tissue, and the wound is nearly closed and healed over.
A big thank you to my friend and fellow farmer Karen Sherwood of Ochwilla Hill Farm for her herb and homeopathy advice with this.