Necropsies will always help the survivors

Yes, necropsies will always help the survivors. Firstly, it makes a lot of sense to explain what necropsy is, with the word necropsy being the same as autopsy. 

The difference is the fact that autopsy refers to post-mortem examinations in humans. However, necropsy is still a post-mortem examination, but in this case it refers more to animals. 

Therefore, the topic for this week is how important necropsy can be to the survival of your herd of animals. 

Although we tend to mourn our dead animals sometimes, we still have to be mindful that we have to protect those alive from suffering or experiencing the same kind of death, or die from the same cause. 

Therefore, it is required from us to be proactive in our conduct with the surviving animals. 

Last week, our farm assistant (Peter) called me and reported about a constantly salivating cow he had observed. 

According to him, the cow had not been drinking water for three days, and even though he kept it in the kraal for monitoring, it was not showing any signs of eating the feed that he gave. 

I had my suspicions about what the problem could be, but I could never be sure since I was some 200km away from the animal. 

I was thinking more along the lines that the animal had probably eaten some type of poisonous plant, or that it had something stuck in her throat or elsewhere in the digestive tract. 

Late on Friday morning, the phone rang. Yes, you guessed right, it was Peter again. And the news was that the cow had died that morning. 

I asked him to wait for me to arrive at the farm before he opened up the carcass since I wanted to perform a necropsy on the cow to see what might have caused its death. 

It could have been a discarded piece of bone or anything stuck in the throat, but I still wanted to know what it was. 

My main concern was more about the impact of this one cow’s death on the surviving herd on the farm. 

The loss of that animal was disheartening, but it also provided an opportunity to gain valuable insight on my husbandry practices (diet, watering, housing, quarantine, etc.) and diseases (bacterial, fungal, parasitic and viral). Ultimately, this may help to prevent future losses within the herd. 

When a cow dies, sometimes it brings valuable information about where you excel or fail as a farmer in managing the wellbeing of your animals (animal health). 

When I arrived on the farm, Peter was waiting for me, ready for the job at hand. 

We opened up the carcass systematically from head to toe, and it gave us the opportunity to inspect all the organs, internal as well as external. Even though we knew that the cause of death was internal, we used this cow as a mirror of our general animal management practices. 

The important thing to a correct post-mortem is to look at all the organs inside the body. 

But before you attempt to open up a carcass, take note of the physical appearance of the dead animal from head to toe. 

Look for any abnormal findings, like eye and nose discharges, a swelling of the head or neck, poor body condition as well as a roughened hair coat. 

Remember never to open up a carcass if you see blackish (bloody) fluid coming from the mouth, nose, eyes, anus and any other natural body opening. This might be a case of anthrax (“Miltsiekte”, “Eteva”, “Ombulwa”, “Luhepe”). 

The infection from such a carcass can spread fast, if exposed to air. Rather call a vet office for assistance immediately. 

Anyway, back to the story at hand. Our findings were exciting, exciting in the sense that at least the rest of the herd was not at risk. But still, we could at least save the others from the same fate. To our surprise, when we opened the trachea, we discovered some thin wires, and that the throat was blackish in colour. 

After thorough investigations, there was evidence to suggest that this cow had chewed on an old tyre. 

Now, with historical information about which camp the cow had been grazing in (it used to be a dumping site in the olden days) and how long it had been salivating, we could fairly say we had$ uncovered the actual cause of death. 

That was good enough for us. What we needed to do after the discovery was just to start the search for old tyres discarded in the camps, and get rid of any other object which might be hazardous to the health of the animals. 

Secondly, we at least had the information to gauge what deficiency this animal could have had to chew on rubber (tyre) or wires within the tyre. 

Livestock, especially cattle, eating anything (we call this behaviour “pica”) could be associated with mineral and sometimes vitamin deficiency. 

The most likely culprit of deficiency could be phosphate or calcium. 

Phosphate deficiency is especially associated with the animals picking up the Botulism bacteria (“Lamsiekte”, “Oshinambuda”, “Lunanali”, “Omutjise wokuremana”), which makes the animals develop progressive paralysis from the hindlimb until the rest of the body paralyses and the animal dies. 

Moreover, now that the grazing is still poor, animals tend to also be deficient and pick on almost anything, including objects and poisonous plants. 

Thus, the lesson learned from the necropsy was to up a bit more on the mineral supplementation. 

Individual animals which seem to always be picking on junk or are thinner can separately be injected with metabolic additives which especially contain phosphorous elements and a combination of Vitamin B in order to stimulate appetite and improve on its metabolism. 

There you go. 

Even though we mourn the death of our beloved animals, at least necropsies will give us clues about the cause of death, and how to improve our animal health management strategies in order to save the surviving animals.