sloe beef

We sent a bullock away this morning to the abattoir, sold to the local butcher, and on the way back to the field the remaining beef cattle stopped and gorged themselves on sloe berries. It was really hard to persuade them to move the final 20 yards to the field.

It sounds lovely, the cattle foraging on autumn berries, however as sloes grow on blackthorn there is a darker side to this tale. If you look carefully in the picture it is possible to see the blackthorns sticking out amongst the berries.

Berries and thorns

Many thanks to for their excellent photograph which illustrates today’s blog.

Two years ago, over a period of two months, we had three cattle go down with a very rare illness – woodentongue. It is easily treated with antibiotics and caused when a particular strain of bacterium enters the mouth causing the tongue to swell and harden just like wood. If affected, the cattle are in great pain, have difficulty eating and drinking, and lose condition rapidly.  If not spotted quickly it can easily become fatal.

I was lucky in a way as I had come across it once before. When the second and third cases appeared, a few days apart, about six weeks after the first case, I did contact the vet and we agreed he should come if we had a fourth case, as this was right at the heart of the bluetongue epidemic.

The vet said how rare woodentongue was and he acknowledged and accepted that I had both seen and treated it once before.  The administration of 5 days of antibiotics did the trick, and now we must be extra vigilant watching this batch of almost finished cattle carefully and look out for any drooling or dribbling which are the first signs of trouble.

Last time we identified the cause to a particularly prickly hedge in a different field and we moved the cattle. It will be a pity if any of them have pricked their tongues this morning as they are a good crop of cattle should all be ready and away by Christmas.

Farmers are skilled in animal husbandry and often have years of experience in treating and diagnosing ailments and illnesses.  It is for this reason that this article makes good reading. There has been some suggestion that farmers be downgraded to members of the public when it comes to advertising and antibiotics.

We do use antibiotics, but only when absolutely necessary, as in the cases described above, and always discuss veterinary matters with our excellent vet. He then helps us to decide what medicines to keep on the farm, however it is helpful for us as professional livestock keepers to have additional facts available from the companies and reps which help us to ask more questions when talking to the vet.


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