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Surprising Natural Cures for the Top 10 Cattle Ailments

in Ag-Ovations - by Farmon

Article from Natural Cattle Care by Pat Coleby, courtesy of Acres U.S.A.

Pat Coleby has raised stock on her farm in Australia and successfully cared for her own animals while also acting as a resource on animal care for farmers all over Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. In “Natural Cattle Care” she brings us her encyclopedic knowledge of cattle and their health care needs to North America. Through the use of vitamins and herbs, she teaches us how to prevent, and if it is too late for prevention, then how to treat any number of ailments that afflict the cattle population. Coleby’s prescribed treatments for the following “Top Ten” cattle ailments are just an example of the depth and breadth of her understanding of the needs and requirements of the bovine world.

Common Ailments and Remedies

With experience and knowledge of cattle ailments and remedies, one should need to seek veterinary treatment only for really serious conditions. In the event of serious illness, it is always good to be doing something to help the beast while the vet is on the way. Additionally, illness always seems to strike at inconvenient times, such as weekends and holidays, when the vet is unavailable. But often, with a bit of knowledge, you can care for your own animals.

Prevention is always better than cure and knowing your animals and their behavior will go a long way toward warding off illness. The alert farmer realizes when animals are off-color before they show definite signs. The cow that kicks unusually when the cups are being put on should always be regarded with suspicion; her udder is likely causing her trouble. Similarly, the beast that lies away from the others and is slow to go out or come in should be watched. It is no good to wait until they are down with their legs in the air and then expect a hard-worked vet to pick up the pieces. The vets with whom I worked in the early days used to complain that I spotted an incipiently ill animal so early that it was cured before they found out what was the matter — surely a desirable way to go.

When an animal is sick, sensible care and attention — keeping it sheltered, quiet, well-fed, and watered — is all-important. Good nursing has helped many an animal survive that had no apparent hope of living. The more you are able to diagnose and care for your animals early on, the less illness and trauma they will suffer overall.


Mastitis is quite easily controlled by ensuring that all the animals get the right amount of minerals in their either their hand-fed or on-demand licks. Bail-fed milkers will need a three-tablespoon (30 grams) per head per feed minimum. Generally feed is grown with artificial fertilizers and is low in the necessary lime minerals and copper. The protein levels in Chapter 6 should be adhered to since too much protein in the food is a potent cause of mastitis and overly rich diets should be adjusted.

If the pH of the ration is correct and the lactating animal is receiving its lick ration, the type of the mastitis organism seems to be immaterial. Even a torn udder will not produce instant mastitis. Naturally, in this case, the farmer will treat the tear and give the animal extra vitamin C and dolomite to prevent any infection.

An infected cow should be given an extra tablespoon of dolomite and the same of vitamin C night and morning until the infection clears—usually three to five days. In the United Kingdom, a teaspoon (five grams) of copper sulfate has to be added to that mixture as the basic pasture is higher in protein than in Australia.

We now have a new or ancient modality according to how one looks at it. Hydrogen peroxide; 10 ml squirted straight into the affected quarter has cured black mastitis in hours. We used to take ten days curing it with massive amounts of vitamin C. Additional vitamin C could be given by mouth for a day or two as well. The advantage of all the above methods is that the quarters are not lost as is so often the case when ordinary drugs are used.


The signs are usually an evil-smelling discharge from the vulva following calving, often after the calf has been born dead or taken away in pieces. If a vet is attending, he will insert a pessary, otherwise, give a washout of a teaspoon of salt to a liter (approximately 1/4 gallon) of water to remove the worst of the infective material. If an animal sheds the afterbirth cleanly, this should not be necessary.

Metritis and other conditions affecting the uterus are mainly caused by a lack of vitamin A. In a bad year with much dry weather, there are often quite a few affected animals, as they will not have had enough green grass to obtain the necessary vitamin A. There will be a predisposition to metritis in stock on chemically manured paddocks as the chemicals interfere with the synthesis of vitamin A, and the cattle do not receive as much as they should.

Any animal with metritis should be put on a course of vitamin A in some form or other. Vitamin A, D, and E injections are suitable as prescribed on the bottle, or an A and D (cod liver oil) drench, 20 ml twice a week if possible, will work. Cattle usually take the oral dose quite well on feed. Vitamin C will also help clear up the infection; use either 7.5 to 10 grams by injection every other day for a cow or 12 grams orally every day in the feed for a week.

Acetonemia (Ketosis)

This is a problem in dairy herds, especially those run intensively for high milk production. Signs can be a preference for hay and coarse feed, a sweet smell on the breath and milk, and excessive licking and chewing. This condition does not occur in cattle who are fed a diet where the carbohydrates and protein are in the right balance. They must, of course, receive their correct amount of minerals. Work done in the United States suggests that the copper in the lick is all-important in preventing ketosis.

Years ago a dairy farmer asked me if I had any bright ideas on how to deal with acetonemia and I suggested he add a tablespoon of dolomite per head per feed. The next time we met he was delighted to tell me that it had worked and that there had not been any new cases since he started using it. Again, the lick would be a preventative, as would lowering the protein in the diet.

Milk Fever

Milk fever occurs when the cow’s calcium reserves are too low for it to sustain life. This occurs shortly after calving. As with lactation tetany, the animal has put all it has into the milk and left too few minerals for herself. The signs are exactly like snake bite, curiously enough, lethargy, slow movements, and the pupil of the eye appears much dilated as the eye muscle relaxes. Death will follow if treatment is not started immediately (in either case). The magnesium/calcium injection for the relief of milk fever is obtainable from any feed store and the amounts are given on the bottle. For best results, put the injection in each side of the shoulder and rump, four places in all. This way it is dissipated as fast as possible.

Stock that has been fed on properly balanced paddocks and/or been receiving the basic lick, will not be prone to milk fever. I have found that even confirmed milk fever sufferers will not have a recurrence as long the necessary minerals have been provided. (Often if a cow has had milk fever once, she seems to be more likely to contract it again.)

Bearing in mind that snake bite and milk fever present exactly similar signs, this alternative should always be considered. It sounds unlikely, but if there is any doubt treat as for snakebite as well; it will do no harm. (In the middle of a cold winter I was once confronted by a horse in an unlikely advanced state of pneumonia and suffering from snakebite, luckily the same treatment worked for both.)

Grass Tetany

This condition is caused by a deficiency of magnesium in the paddock, so it is not really a disease. Professor Ivan Caple, of the University of Melbourne, stated that “In dairy breeds, the risk of grass tetany is increased when potassium and nitrogen fertilizers are applied in autumn and early spring to promote pasture growth in late winter and spring.” Organic methods of improving the pasture are far safer and more reliable in the long term.

Cattle will show signs much like lactation tetany which usually appears in spring with the rapid growth of grass, especially on paddocks that have had superphosphate applied and are, therefore, short of magnesium (and copper). The cattle will go down and die struggling, except in extreme cases where they die as if asleep. On that occasion, the vets called it superphosphate poisoning — not grass tetany.

The treatment is injections of magnesium and calcium which are available from the vet or fodder stores. The injections should be given as soon as the first signs are seen. If they’re given in four places, each side of the neck and each side of the rump, they will act faster. On farms where bore water is used for drinking, the cattle on the bores do not seem to succumb, while those in a next-door paddock on dam water will go down very rapidly. This is likely because most bores are high in magnesium.

This condition only strikes when the animals are on magnesium-deficient paddocks. A soil analysis of the farm is a fairly reliable guide to paddocks at risk for grass tetany. Once again, a good soil analysis can alert the farmer to many potential health problems on the farm.

Foot Rot

This is another highly contagious disease in animals at risk through copper deficiency. The organism lives in most pastures and copper-deficient animals will very soon pick it up. The winter and spring of 1992, which was incredibly wet, produced an amazing number of calls from people with footrot afflicted stock, and an equal number of thankful ones who, when supplementing with the stock licks, had cleared it up very quickly. One lady who milked two very fine house cows that became very lame with bad cases of footrot found that a tablespoon of copper sulfate in the evening bail feed cured it overnight. The cows were, of course, getting dolomite in their feed.

The disease causes smelly, supporting, and very sore feet, sometimes with large proud flesh growths forming in between the toes. If confronted with that condition, a sprinkling of straight copper sulfate on the growth after dipping the feet in the copper wash will help the proud flesh to disintegrate. The wash should be made up of two pounds of copper sulfate to two gallons of water and two pints of vinegar. The vinegar acts as a water softener to make the mixture soak into the lesions. Raising copper levels in the food, or giving the licks and maintaining the cattle at the correct level, is the quickest cure (and the best prevention), and there will be no recurrence even on the same land. However, if the farm has had artificial fertilizers used on it, the problem will be ongoing until the imbalances can be corrected.

Keratin, which depends on adequate sulfur and copper in the diet, is the component that gives skin and hair its strength. When foot rot (foot scald) starts, a thin, red line will be seen between the toes of the cow. This happens when the skin has inadequate keratin and is breaking down allowing the entry of the causative organism.


Bloat is a sign of a sick farm, the cause being an imbalance of potassium, magnesium, and sulfur or it can follow a top-dressing with artificial fertilizers. If the land has been farmed organically and remineralized it will not occur. The stands of solid clover that so often cause bloat only grow on unbalanced over-fertilized (using artificials) and under- mineralized soil.

If an animal is only mildly bloated, a drench of about a liter of cooking oil (not liquid paraffin) will help lubricate the insides so some of the wind can be dissipated from one end or the other. The oil drench should be followed by enforced exercise. Then another drench should be given consisting of a tablespoon of dolomite and the same of seaweed in about half a liter of cider vinegar (do not try to put that mixture through a drenching gun, shake it up in a bottle and pour it in).

If the bloat is acute and the animal is down, it will be necessary to release the gas. If this is not done, the pressure will build-up to the point where the beast suffocates and/or the organs cannot function. The gas is released with a pointed knife or a trocar; the latter is a sharp, hollow instrument that allows the gas to escape. The gut should be pierced on the left side about a hands-width behind the last rib, halfway down the side. If using a sharp knife, insert it and twist slightly, the gas will come out very fast. Only put the knife or instrument in just as far as is needed to release the pressure. Be sure to disinfect the opening before and afterward. Another drench of seaweed meal and cider vinegar will help the animal recover. An injection of vitamin C would also be a good safeguard (about 20 cc).


This is caused by an imbalance in the gut due to poor feed, lack of minerals, or interior parasites, all of which can place the cow at risk. However, Hungerford, the basic veterinary authority in Australia, suggests that diarrhea is nearly always due to a shortfall in copper. Give the lick by mouth — just put the powder straight in. Care must be taken that the patient does not dehydrate. Drench in liquids if necessary. Sometimes a tablespoon of vitamin C and the same of dolomite works well; half this amount is very good in calf scours which is usually caused by a lack of magnesium in the diet. However, as Hungerford states in his Diseases of Livestock that a lack of copper is often the cause in weaners and adults; it is also often the cause of worm infestations as well.

A beef cattle farmer I knew had 80 head that were in a bad way. He rang me because one was down and he had tried every drench in the book without success. He brought the ill one into the cattle yards with the tractor. I suggested that he give it two tablespoons of the lick and the same of vitamin C morning and night for two days. I said that by then it should be well on the way to recovery. He told me that it jumped out of the pen the day after that. He then ran the remaining cattle through the race and gave each their two tablespoons of the lick. I asked him if it was difficult. He said he opened their mouths with his left hand and with a scoop that held the exact amount of the dose, he threw it into each beast’s mouth. The job took him just over half an hour and the herd recovered completely. Obviously, the soil health had to be attended to and the lick made available ad-lib at all times. The lick must be kept dry or the copper is lost by chemical action in half an hour.


The cause needs to be determined. If the cows do not come in season fully, the most likely cause is a lack of copper. See that the cows have access to the lick in feed or ad-lib or amend the diet if what they currently receive is insufficient. Cows that fail to hold to service (always assuming that the male is fertile) are, unless non-breeders, suffering from a lack of vitamin A. An injection of vitamins A and D, or A, D, and E before the next heat will usually mean the failure will not occur again. Otherwise, supplementation with some sort of vitamin A coming up to service, or feeding the stock on a well-grown green crop, would ensure they hold.

This sort of infertility is apt to occur after or during a long drought (which is probably how the native fauna is regulated). Particular care should be taken of the bulls in that case as vitamin A-related infertility is usually irreversible in males. A lack of selenium is another reason for poor or complete infertility in bulls. The sperm will be weak and few in quantity, and those that are there will tend to drop their tails. Luckily seaweed contains selenium in an organic form and making sure that stud animals receive their ration of the lick regularly will go a long way to ensuring sperm quality and quantity.

Worms and Liver Fluke Drench resistance strikes fear into everyone these days, but it seems to be a fact of life. The worms adapt to drenches faster than we can make new ones. Even the Ivermectin group, which was supposed to be proof against drench resistance, has now succumbed. Each new drench has a limited life as long as it is of chemical composition.

The answer to worms lies in good husbandry which has been outlined in earlier chapters. We shall never be able to beat the worms, so we must use an organic system of farming that lets the dung beetles, earthworms, and soil fauna do it for us. This must be allied to a diet high enough in the necessary minerals to stop the worms from becoming a scourge. Dr. William A. Albrecht says in his works that animals who have the right amount of copper in their systems do not have worm problems. Farmers who have fully remineralized their land and have it in good heart have, in many cases, given up drenching on a regular basis. Most of them also see that their cattle have licks available when they want them.

Given the information in Chapter 8 in the section on copper, where it is pointed out that Dr. Albrecht found worm infestations (of any kind) only occurred in copper-deficient animals, the section below on different kinds of worms is academic. It has been noticeable with all stock that fluke, tapeworm, and coccidia are the first and easiest to prevent with even quite small amounts of copper. Those farmers with cattle on the lick described in Chapter 8 will find that drenching becomes a thing of the past. A worm count of 200 or below is not a concern in properly supplemented and fed animals; in fact, a “wormless” beast usually is not very well since worms do not live in unhealthy animals. Not only actual worms, but all protozoa-type infections also appear to be caused by a lack of copper in the diet. It took me and other farmers a few years to realize that many of the conditions, such as coccidia and possibly toxoplasmosis, just were not occurring once the ration was in order.

As the copper in the lick prevents the worms from staying in the gut of the cattle, they will surely die out fairly soon as they have to live inside a beast to complete their life cycle. It is interesting that worm counts done soon after beasts arrive often show a quite high count of eggs, but no adults either mature or immature. Another week or two on the lick is probably enough to see that the animal is fully clear. When hatched worms just do not stay in an animal whose copper reserves are correct.

Copper and worms

I have not used any proprietary drenches for just on 30 years now. Copper sulfate, with various additions, was used for many years prior to the advent of artificial chemical drenches in the late 1950s. The copper was mixed with either carbon tetrachloride (a very poisonous cleaning fluid), lead arsenate (another dangerous poison), or nicotine sulfate, which was possibly the safest of the three. I very much doubt if the reported deaths were often due to copper poisoning.

Copper toxicity causes liver damage which, if not treated, is fatal. We found out that when copper is administered with dolomite, there is little risk unless the cattle have been grazing heliotrope or some other weed high in copper like Patterson’s curse or St. John’s wort; however, if they had, the chance of a worm burden would be virtually nil, because of the high copper content of all three.

According to the Department of Primary Industry in Queensland, the blood serum levels of copper in a bovine should be between 500 and 1,100 milliliters per liter, at which levels worm infestations would be unlikely. In all cases of suspected worm infestation, a count should be taken either by the vet or as many farmers the world over these days do, examining the manure with a microscope (a school quality microscope will do).

Long-standing copper overload can apparently be corrected by giving the affected cow dolomite on a permanent basis. This can be given with an injection of vitamin B15 (10 cc), Pangamic acid (10 cc), and vitamin C (20 cc) in the same syringe once a week. This has been tried in the field on farms where too much copper has been spread on the land. For immediate copper poisoning, give the beast a tablespoon of dolomite and vitamin C powder by mouth every few hours, and 10 cc of vitamin B15 with 30 cc of sodium ascorbate (vitamin C) in the same syringe by injection. This can be given every few hours, although a calf that I first did this work on recovered fully in an hour and a half and further doses were not necessary. Signs of copper poisoning are misery and a hunched up appearance — in effect, acute bellyache due to liver pain.

According to Justine Glass, black animals need about six times more copper than white ones. Consult the section on copper for deficiency signs.

Initially, several friends who ran cattle, horses, sheep, or goats experimented using copper instead of proprietary drenches, with very satisfactory results. The only controlled experiment was performed with goats and the Department of Agriculture did the tests. Half were given the latest state-of-the-art drench (not Ivermectin), and half were given the copper sulfate/dolomite/vitamin C dose. The results were equal — 100 percent clear in both cases.

When I first started using copper sulfate instead of proprietary drenches, I could not find any guidelines and Dr. Albrecht, whose works show that copper prevents worm infestations, does not mention dosage quantities. A retired vet lent me a copy of the British Veterinary Codex (1952) and I was able to work out amounts from that source. I had reckoned that monogastrics need about half the amount on body weight that ruminants require; however, work done by the University of Minnesota on ponies and copper requirements suggests that equines actually top the list as far as copper requirement or tolerance goes.

I have discussed running copper through the diet with various vets and at least one did not have apoplexy, but was genuinely impressed and interested because to use his exact words, “We have come to the end of the line with proprietary drenches.” That was 18 years ago and the situation has not improved with the years.

Modern strategy

I found that telling people to drench their animals with copper and dolomite, etc., was not a success, but what does work is prevention as underlined many times in this book.

Working with various farmers we evolved the lick mentioned in Chapter 8. It has been eminently successful and it is no longer necessary to think about the old strategic drenching. It takes a full year to build up the copper reserves in an animal and only then does the coat stay a good strong color the whole year through. The cattle’s continuing good health on the regime seems to be the only consequence.

Past strategy

What follows is purely academic and a relic of the drenching days. That said, there are a few things farmers should know about the types of worms that used to lie in wait for their stock.

Barber’s Pole Worm (Haemonchus Contortus)

Without a doubt the most insidious and dangerous worm on the list. This is a blood-sucking worm that can be picked up and carried in encapsulated form until the time is right for it to emerge in the animal’s gut and wreak havoc. It is particularly deadly in calves and kills by totally robbing its host of red blood cells. It is not active when the weather is cold, but waits for a really hot spell to emerge when it causes almost total anemia very quickly. Drenching when it is in the encapsulated form does not work, so it is necessary to drench the moment a young animal’s lower eyelids become pale; by the time they are white, it is usually too late. Another case where prevention in the form of good farming practice is the best strategy.

Brown Stomach Worm (Ostertagia)

Another blood-sucking worm, but this can be hit whenever the animal is drenched. Quite often two drenches are needed on successive days, as the worm burrows into the stomach walls, and does not come out until those at large have been destroyed by the first drench. One very badly infested animal that I leased needed drenching for four days in succession before he was clear.

Lung Worm (Meullerius Capillaris and Dirofilaria Immitis)

These are two distinct sorts of lungworms that used to need two different drenches. It was also thought that they did not cover more than one sort of livestock, but this does not appear to be correct.

Signs are coughing and ill thrift. A worm count will be needed to determine which kind of lungworm is causing the trouble, unless using the Ivermectin group of treatment. Lungworm, if not dealt with, causes lasting damage. Quite often really healthy looking animals with a slight cough do not have lungworm, but have scarring from a previous infestation. Doses of vitamin E, as for pneumonia scarring, could possibly help.

If calves are badly infected with lungworm, using a severe drench can be fatal because all the worms in the lungs will be killed at once. This will mean there will not be enough room left for the animal to gain the oxygen it needs, so it is virtually dying of mechanical pneumonia. Better, in this case, to use a mild drench that deals with the worms in the intestines (part of the lungworm cycle is spent there), and then a day or two later use something that will kill those left in the lungs, some of which will have migrated by then.

Liver Fluke

Fluke has a six-week life cycle from a small conical snail whose larvae infect the stock. These can infest very wetland or dams and, once they have been ingested, grow into a full-grown (about a centimeter wide) fluke in the host’s liver.

Signs of liver fluke are anemia, ill thrift, occasionally a swelling under the jaw, and a capricious appetite. Liver fluke drenches are very expensive and rather severe. Raising the copper in the ration until the eyelids become a deep pink usually gets rid of fluke. This could mean a flat dessertspoon per cow for a few days, after that make sure the copper levels are correct and the fluke will not re-infest the animals. If they do, the beasts are not getting enough copper.

The drenches for fluke are very expensive and often difficult to get. However, it is the easiest to prevent; a fairly small amount of copper run through the ration is enough to prevent it. I did not realize this when I first went onto an irrigation farm (the fluke come in with the water), but wondered why I was the only person on the system that was not losing animals with fluke. The animals were on a small maintenance ration of copper in those days. Farmers have since told me that they put a thick canvas bag of copper sulfate by the water outlet onto the farm so that a small amount is washed into the water at all times. That was their way of preventing fluke. Treating dams for fluke with copper sulfate is not always the answer, because the snails can and do migrate across damp paddocks. It is not necessary to have a dam to have problems with liver fluke infestations.

Pinworms (Nematodes)

These are not often a problem in cattle, but occasionally they can infest a calf that would pick them up from licking the ground. Examining the calf around the anus will reveal them squirming. A Piperizane drench will be needed to get rid of them, the normal drenches (barring the Ivermectin group) do not usually touch them. Piperizane powder is used for chooks and the dosage can be determined from the container. I found that pea hay was a potent source of pinworm infestation, the eggs must have been scraped off the ground with the pea straw. Again the lick is the answer.

Tapeworm (Monezia Expanza)

There is some controversy on tapeworms. Some authorities say they are species-specific, in other words, cattle could not pick up tapeworms from a dog, but others say this is rubbish. Tapeworms in stock are not very common, so perhaps they really do not cross between species. The white segments sometimes can be seen in manure. If tapeworms are present, often the animal is very potbellied. A special drench is needed, on which the vet will advise. Apparently, they are not killed by the Ivermectin group. One sheep farmer who had been regularly dosing them with this group decided to try a copper drench. He gave each of them two grams of copper sulfate per head in a large teaspoon of dolomite. To his amazement, many of them passed quite long tapeworms. He was unaware that they had them and had thought that the drench he used would have kept them worm-free. Copper is regarded as being a very old specific against tapeworms.


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