The cattle herd was a mix of Brahmans, Brown swiss and some hybrids that were collectively raised for both dairy and meat production on a little farm just outside of Diriamba. Most of the animals were dosed with a lipid-soluble Vitamin supplement and de-wormed with injectable Ivermectin. The farm hands and VIDA staff veterinarians restrained one animal at a time so the students could advance with syringes ready. It was great to see handling of these animals in a rural setting, here the workers rely on lassos, slip knots, tail jacks, and sweat to restrain. It was incredible to see them wrangle huge horned bulls with makeshift pulleys around roughly hewn-fences and a central tree stump that served to brace our enormous patients.
Unfortunately, a significant drought was affecting the entire area and these animals and the farmers were definitely feeling the strain. Our head veterinarian held an impromptu rounds session during a break and asked us to consider how much we were really accomplishing with these supplements and deworming treatments. He asked, “Will these really do much to help improve the condition of these animals? Is our work today going to help this producer make more money for these animals?” The sad answer was no, what these animals really needed was a steady, reliable food source. Some of the rural producers had to take their herds miles away to find a pasture where they could eat. Driving around the country, there were often cattle and horses loosely tied or freely roaming on the sides of the roads eating the grass there, probably because this was the closest, and most lush, “pasture” they had access to.
After treating the adult cattle, we moved on to the calves. Again the head veterinarian had a teachable moment and called our attention to a little calf with an umbilical hernia. He asked us how we would treat in these conditions. We answered as though this was a case in the US and he shot down our responses. With a lengthy drought and dwindling resources, the farm’s owner was debating keeping his herd at all and could not be expected to spend time or money to fix this calf. He explained that the best thing we could do was educate. He explained to the farm owner how best to prevent hernias in the future, with cleaner husbandry following the birth to hopefully prevent an infection at the umbilicus.
The goat farm we visited was facing similar concerns to the cattle-there simply was not enough food. The owner was feeding a diet very high in roughage with little nutritional value simply because that was all she had available.
Of all our clinic days, Day 6 was perhaps the most humbling as we learned not only about the conditions these animals live in, but also saw the struggles of farmers in these small communities. As we said our final goodbyes to our staff doctors and veterinary assistants, one of the assistants, Diana said something that I hope will always resonate with me as I continue in my career. She said, “We are blessed to do what we love, you guys even more than others with the education you have access to. You have to remember to give that love back.“
Thanks to VIDA, the incredible staff, my fellow students and these wonderful communities for an incredible, and truly unforgettable, experience!
THANK YOU OTNI060514!!