The Veterinary Toolbox


Supplies, Rules and Plans to Prepare for Veterinary Emergencies and Urgencies

My parents were married May 21, 1977, and as was customary, they received a set of travel luggage in a salad-bowl-era shade of green that can still be seen on reruns of That ‘70s Show. In approximately 1996, my dad took the smallest suitcase, probably intended for toiletries, from the luggage set and wrote “CATTLE HEALTH” on the top with a black marker. This served as his herd veterinary toolbox up until last year when, much to my mom’s relief, the handle broke and she purchased him something she considered more appropriate for Christmas.

On any given day, one could open this DIY vet box and find syringes and needles in a variety of sizes; a castrating knife; an 8-inch curved needle with heavy suture thread; small, curved needles with dissolvable thread; a thermometer; scalpels; a needle holder/scissor combination tool; and LA-200. Most commonly, my dad, a cowman of 45 years, treats respiratory, eye or foot issues in the field, but on occasion could deal with a vaginal prolapse while calving on pasture.

“The one thing that is absolutely essential to have in the toolbox is an appropriate way to restrain that animal for safe treatment – both for the safety of the animal and the people that are involved,” says Becky Funk, DVM, Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center, Clay Center. “It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated, but it does need to be reliable and safe.”

While these supplies may work in one man’s personal vet box, Funk emphasizes that those particular products considered “essential” to an operation depends entirely on the individual and their production setting and goals.

“Regardless of which products those are, each producer should have a set of standard treatment protocols that are followed for different scenarios, and exceptions to those protocols need to be discussed with their veterinarian,” she stresses. “Using any product in a manner not directed on the label is illegal for a producer to do without veterinary direction, so that is something important to keep in mind when making treatment decisions in the field.”

Rule No. 1 in Funk’s book is for producers to establish a veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) with their veterinarian. “For both routine day-to-day operation and emergency treatment, having a veterinarian involved will only become more critical going forward,” Funk points out. Additionally, Funk says, there are legal restrictions to what veterinarians can do for patients without a valid VCPR.

Even with a good working relationship and VCPR, Funk expects an emergency call from clients at some point.

“Emergencies happen to everyone,” she points out. “While we can’t eliminate them, we can have a plan.”

Part of that plan is being able to assess the emergency accurately. Funk’s Rule No. 2 is that not all emergencies are created equal. A true emergency, she says, will have characteristics like major trauma, severe bleeding/blood loss, exposed bones, dystocia, a systemic disease that demonstrates rapid progression or severe/intractable pain. Basically, a true emergency demonstrates imminent danger of loss of life or permanent damage to the animal.

A veterinary urgency, on the other hand, certainly needs to be addressed, but, as Funk explains, needs attention in hours – not minutes. While there may be trauma, it doesn’t result in loss of function or change in mental activity. Urgencies may include minor lacerations, lameness not involving obvious fractures or limb displacement, or systemic diseases that don’t appear to compromise respiratory function or to be progressing rapidly. However, Funk warns producers to keep a watchful eye on veterinary urgencies because they can transition to emergencies.

Next are what Funk calls “I just noticed it” emergencies – problems that simply go unnoticed until they are advanced. This may happen, for example, if the stock is out on pasture, making it difficult to lay an eye on every single animal. Noticeably aged wounds, lumps and bumps, and chronic injuries and wounds fall into this category.

“These problems are generally difficult to manage and are unfruitful to address as emergencies,” Funk explains.

Finally, there’s the emergency of convenience, which happens when an incident may rise to emergency status because it’s a convenient time for the owner to seek care. Emergencies of convenience may or may not have been an emergency initially, and now that care is being sought, still may or may not qualify as an emergency. Emergencies of convenience may be incidences like long-term weight loss, extended periods of lameness, symptoms of systemic disease or possible dystocia.

Regardless of the type of emergency, Funk warns producers that a call to her office will lead to Rule No. 3: the emergency will be triaged, which means you will be asked for information about your emergency to help determine the order, or rank, in which your emergency will be handled at her clinic. The information given by the producer will help determine if it’s a true emergency, an urgency, if it was just noticed or if it’s a convenient time for the producer to bring the animal in to the clinic. The more accurate the producer can be in the description of the ailment, the better prepared the veterinary staff will be when receiving the animal.

Funk recommends getting to know the veterinary doctors and staff not only as part of a VCPR, but also as part of preparing for an emergency. “Your veterinarian needs to know what animals you have and what your routine management practices are. They should have access to the health history of your animals,” she says.

On the flip side, she points out, “You should be familiar with their emergency protocols so when you need care, time isn’t lost trying to figure out how to contact them. Open communication can be a tool to avoid an emergency all together.”

Additional preparations producers can make are to either be prepared to transport animals to the clinic or to restrain the animal at their location. This is especially true for what Funk calls “predictable emergency” – periods like calving, weaning, spring turnout or breeding.

“Conversations with your veterinarian about how to prepare for these periods are helpful,” Funk says. “Know your comfort level dealing with situations and when to call for help.”

It’s important to put some thought into your veterinary toolbox. It could contain supplies, treatments to use in the field that you’ve discussed with your veterinarian or a list of phone numbers to call in an emergency. It could be a fancy, custom-made cattle veterinary box, a tackle box intended for fishing or a pea-soup green suitcase swiped from an aging luggage set. In the nearly four-decade span of my memory, I don’t recall that little suitcase being used for its originally intended purpose very many times. No, it was destined for bigger things. It may not have traveled worldly – or even out of the tri-county area – but it’s certainly seen a thing or two in its day.

Calving Kit Checklist

Keeping a list of vital supplies handy is important during calving season. Below is a supply and equipment checklist from BioZyme/VitaFerm, curated from

Supplies for the Cow Delivering a Calf

  • Bucket for warm water and disinfectant
  • Disinfectant – cow friendly to put in warm water bucket (ask vet for suggestions)
  • Surgical scrub to use for disinfectant (cow friendly like Nolvasan or Betadine, ask vet for help)
  • OB sleeves
  • OB chains (2)
  • OB handles (2)
  • Lubricant
  • Calf puller (if necessary)
  • Calf puller bag (for storage and to keep sanitary)
  • Warm water source to fill bucket for cleaning pulling equipment
  • Plastic cup to get water and disinfectant from the bucket to clean the cow

Supplies for the Calf Following Birth

  • Iodine for the navel
  • Syringes for vaccination/medication
  • Needles for vaccination/medication
  • Vaccinations/medications that fit into vaccination protocol suggested by vet
  • Portable de-horning paste (if applicable)
  • Ear tag applicator
  • Ear tags
  • Ear tag marking pen
  • Old towels to clean and warm the calf

Supplies for the Calf That Won’t Nurse

  • Stainless steel bucket to collect cow colostrum or mix colostrum replacer
  • Colostrum replacer
  • Milk replacer
  • Electrolyte powder
  • Esophageal feeding tube with tubing bag
  • Calf bottle with screw-on nipple

Supplies for Clean-Up

  • Bristle brush for calving equipment
  • Wire whisk for calf bottles

Additional Helpful Items

  • Calf claim product
  • A long-acting tetracycline in the case of a retained placenta

“For most cow-calf producers, calving season is the time you’re virtually guaranteed to have an emergency of some sort, so put some thought into how those scenarios need to be handled and what your particular comfort level is with dealing with emergencies,” Becky Funk, DVM, advises. “Some producers are quite comfortable sorting out difficult dystocias, for instance, and keep a very complete calving kit on hand that can do everything short of a surgical intervention, while others prefer to allow their vet to handle these situations and maintain [only] basic calving supplies.”

Written By: Micky Burch, Nebraska Cattleman Senior Writer
Source: Nebraska Cattleman December 2021 Issue

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