Tulare Center Trains UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Students

UC Vet Students Learn About Livestock Animals in Tulare

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

VMRTC is the Veterinarian Medicine Training and Research Center located in Tulare. The facility is an extension of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. The site offers education and training to veterinarians by offering senior veterinary students and residents on-the-farm clinical medical training and residencies in dairy production medicine.

Nathan Brown, a UC Davis veterinary student, is working on practicals in and out of a hospital setting.

“We do rotations in the hospital and outside of the hospital. We have a teaching center and, in addition, we have our California Animal Health and Safety Laboratory System (CAHFS), which is involved with diagnosing foreign animal diseases,” Brown said. “That is sort of the main mission.”

“In the mornings, we do herd checks, we go out to different dairies. We palpate cows for diagnosis of pregnancy, and we’re under the supervision of some of the veterinarians that work at our center,” Brown explained. “In the afternoons, we work on a variety of different projects. One of the projects that we’re working on currently is milking frequency. We are looking at different variables that go into whether or not it’s profitable to move from either two to three times a day or three times a day to two times a day.”

Brown said that the students at the Tulare center are doing their livestock track through UC Davis. “We’re all in our fourth year. It’s been a wonderful experience. Tulare is a great place, and it’s good to see a different part of California.”

Students studying at the center decide which direction they will take regarding animal type or other medical pursuits.

“After our second year, we make a decision about whether we do small animals or large animals,” Brown said. “Some people do equines, other focus on zoo animals—there is a variety of options in our profession and that our school offers.

Brown is pursuing livestock medicine, but he has a commitment to the Air Force to do public health epidemiology for them.

Army veterinarians do clinical medicine for animals on the base. They focus on German shepherd dogs and horses, and they also do some food safety.

“As as a veterinarian in the Air Force, it’s essentially veterinary public health, and my role will be epidemiology on a base, so that’s actually more human focus, and food safety,” Brown said.

“If you kind of think about the historical roots of veterinary medicine, much of the role of veterinarians has been ensuring that food is safe for humans to consume, meaning that the animals are healthy before they get ready for human consumption,” Brown explained. “We must ensure that there’s no points of contamination so that all the food that people eat in this country is healthy and nutritious, and we don’t have to worry about disease.”

Most bases have a veterinary clinic, primarily staffed with army veterinarians.

“My hope is to do some amount of clinical practice at these clinics to sort of keep my veterinary skills relevant. And I’ve had some good advice from some epidemiologists who works at the CDC,” Brown said. “He told me that at least for him, it’s made him a better epidemiologist by keeping his clinical skills relevant because thinking about that differential diagnosis is really a big part of trying to find the cause of a disease.”

Ranchers Concerned About Invasion of Medusahead Weed on Foothill Rangeland

Source: Jeannette E. Warnert

One of the worst rangeland weeds in the West is aptly named after a monster in Greek mythology that has writhing snakes instead of hair.

Medusahead, an unwelcome transplant from Europe, is anathema to the cattle living off rangeland grass. The weed’s three-inch-long bristles poke and sometimes injure the animals’ mouths and eyes.

The weed is also low-quality forage for livestock. When medusahead takes over rangeland, it reduces the forage value by 80 percent.

When Fadzayi Mashiri, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Mariposa, Merced and Madera counties, was appointed in 2013, she became the first natural resources and rangeland expert to hold the position since the retirement of Wain Johnson more than a decade before.

She polled local ranchers to determine their most pressing problems. They said weed management, and in particular, medusahead.

Medusahead is relatively easy to identify on the range. It has distinctive stiff awns and a seed head that does not break apart as seeds mature. Patches of medusahead are obvious when spring turns into summer.

“Medusahead stays green after most of the annual grasses have dried off,” Mashiri said.

Medusahead has high silica content, making it unpalatable to cattle. The silica also protects the plant from decomposition, so a thick thatch builds up on the rangeland, suppressing more desirable species, but not the germination of the next year’s medusahead seedlings.

Over the years, UC scientists have discovered a number of medusahead control strategies:

  •  Corral cows on medusahead before the plant heads out or employ sheep to graze medusahead patches. It’s not sheep’s favorite forage either, but they will eat if left with no other option.
  • Prescribed burning in late spring or early summer. However, this strategy poses air quality and liability issues.
  • Apply nitrogen fertilizer to medusahead to improve palatability before it flowers, which is showing promise for controlling the weed and boosting the value of infested rangeland.
  • Chemical control.

In spring 2014, Mashiri conducted a demonstration field trial in Mariposa County of medusahead control with the herbicide Milestone, which was developed by Dow AgroSciences mainly to control broadleaf weeds like yellow starthistle.

The trial followed rangeland weed control research done by scientists including Joe DiTomaso, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. DiTomaso found that the density of medusahead in treated areas declined and concluded that Milestone prevents medusahead seedlings from thriving.

Unfortunately, Milestone treatment of large rangeland areas is expensive.

“But if the value of forage declines, the productivity of livestock is compromised,” Mashiri said. “When you look at it that way, the chemical treatment might be useful.”

Rescued Calf Gets New High-Tech Prosthetics

Hot and tired from a three-hour drive inside a trailer behind a pickup truck, the 600-pound English Charolais calf was content to lay on the grass behind a south Houston building while a team of technicians worked on its hind legs.

When the calf known as Hero heard its name called, the 15-month-old gingerly got up, unsteadily rocked a bit, then waddled away, tail wagging, eyes wide and tongue licking. It headed across a patch of concrete toward an appetizing snack of green shrubbery a few yards away.

Hero became what may be the nation’s only double-amputee calf with prosthetics on Wednesday when fitted for a new pair of high-tech devices attached to its back legs.

“I’m so proud,” Hero’s caretaker, Kitty Martin, exclaimed. “Look at you!”

It’s the latest step in a year-long effort that has taken Martin and the animal from Virginia, where she rescued it last year from an Augusta County farm where it succumbed to frostbite that claimed its hooves, to Texas.

Animal surgeons at Texas A&M University treated Hero for several months and affixed the initial prosthetics that the calf now had outgrown.

“This is our first cow,” Erin O’Brien, an orthotist and prosthetist for Hanger Inc., an Austin-based national firm that makes prosthetic limbs. She was among a team of about eight people working on the project for about two weeks.

“We did a lot of study of photos and video of cows just regular walking to see what it looks like and see if we can mimic that biomechanically,” O’Brien said. “It’s unusual, yes, but an opportunity.”

Surgeons at Texas A&M accepted Martin’s initial pleas for help, removing about two inches of bone to enable them to create a pad of tissue that would allow for prosthetics.

“Until I worked on him, I hadn’t ever done it before. And I’d not heard of (prosthetics) before in a bovine,” said Ashlee Watts, an equine orthopedic surgeon at the school.

Martin figures she has spent nearly $40,000 to save the calf.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” she said. “I’m an animal rescuer. And he had everything against him.”

Hero’s hooves are custom made of urethane and titanium, the connecting components are titanium and carbon fiber and the sockets that attach to his legs are carbon fiber and acrylic resin.

Martin and O’Brien declined to discuss the cost, but estimated that similar devices for humans go for between $4,000 and $8,000 apiece.

Hero’s sockets are painted with black and white cow spots. “Holstein legs,” O’Brien laughed.

“We like to customize legs to the person’s personality,” she said.

Martin, 53, a former veterinary technician and retired truck driver originally from Dalhart, in the Texas Panhandle, is moving with her husband from Greenville, Virginia, to Cameron in Central Texas.

She’s hoping Hero, who could grow to 1,500 pounds, can be a therapy animal for wounded veterans and special needs children.

“It makes my day,” Martin said. “He’s got a very bright future right now.”