Tales of a Country Vet
Good grass can quickly go bad when it gets into an animal’s gut.
When good grass goes bad
After a long hard winter, farmers and animals all welcome the tangible touches of spring. They might celebrate the arrival of the first daffodils and jonquils, the pussy willow flowers or the wild clematis blooms.
But what really pushes all the right buttons is the grass turning a brilliant naïve green and starting to show a bit of length. Stock that are looking streamlined greedily make the most of the fresh pasture and begin to fill out again. Even the pet animals, the ones that have been patted and spoilt with feed supplements through the wet cold of winter relish a bit of fresh spring growth.
But nothing in life is simple, and there’s a lurking danger growing in that new grass.
At least, the Vet assumed that was the case when he was called out to the Smithers’ place to attend one of their horses which was down and groaning. They had four of them, all spoilt rotten, brushed to a bright shine in summer and kept snug with stables and supplements in winter.
The girls were wanting to get their two horses in training for the summer show circuit. Both their animals were top jumpers and worth a mint, if jumping and dressage were what you wanted a horse for.
But the Smithers weren’t the Vet’s favourite clients. They were a bit too precious, when to his mind a pig hunter’s solid work pony was just as good as a dressage horse.
But a horse in pain deserves a visit, whatever its genealogy.
“Sounds like colic,” he said to Margaret Smithers when the call came through. “Make sure the girls keep the horse walking around. If it goes down and rolls we could end up with a twist in the gut and we don’t want that.
“Oh, and get Brian to go along the road to old man Cooper’s place. Get a couple of bottles of his home brew off him.”
And then he hung up, chuckling. He knew full well that the Smithers family shuddered at the sight of their motley neighbour’s place and certainly never conversed with the old boy socially. But the truth was, Coop made a nice yeasty brew and it might just help the horse better than whatever pale ale the Smithers had in their pantry.
The crook horse was a bright chestnut gelding called Sherlock, a good 16 hands high, a perfect white star on his face and two white hind legs. He was sleek and soft-coated, but his eyes were dull with pain and he didn’t like being pulled around the paddock by Sarah, the older of the Smithers girls.
She was doing a good job, but was clearly upset and fraught with worry. “He keeps stopping and trying to lie down,” she sobbed. “I have to slap him to get him to keep moving.” “Good girl. You’ve done well.” The Vet had a listen to the horse’s belly with his stethoscope and gave him a couple of quick injections: Buscopan to relax the gut muscles, and an antiinflammatory for pain relief.
“This should help pretty quick, then we
Sherlock was sleek and softcoated, but his eyes were dull with pain
will have to wait and see if it’s just colic or something more serious.”
“He’s on just his normal feed, it’s never troubled him before,” said Sarah. “Did you let him out to graze?” “Yes, he really likes the new grass, so we left him out while I helped Linda brush Donovan down and then we took a while, pulling his mane.” She indicated a black horse peering over the yard fence. Its mane was tidy and trim, all the fuzzy-ended hairs plucked out. It would have been a timeconsuming task, even for two of them.
“Well, that is probably the problem, too much fresh green grass that his gut isn’t used to after winter.”
At that stage Sherlock subsided to his knees with a harrumph. But the Vet was onto him instantly, a good slap and tail pull and loud “Yaaaah!” that any equine, pig hunting pony or fancy dressage horse, would understand. It was enough to surprise Sherlock back onto his feet.
“Keep him going round. Now, did your dad get any beer from Mr Cooper?”
“I’m not sure, he was muttering about it but did head up the road in the car.”
Not long after, Brian Smithers drove up beside the Vet’s car and climbed out with a couple of huge brown bottles covered in dust. Not standing on ceremony, the Vet took one, knocked the cap off on a nearby fence post, took a quick swig, nodded approvingly, then raised the horse’s head and chugged the frothy liquid down its throat.
You could smell the yeast from yards away, but the horse didn’t seem to mind the taste. It was one of Cooper’s worst brews, or his best if you wanted to help a horse with a sore stomach.
Sarah went back to walking Sherlock in circles and after a few minutes we heard it. A great snorting, burping belch. A stumble, then a long, loud fart.
Almost instantly the horse’s ears came forward and his pace loosened.
“Life’s a gas isn’t it?” said the Vet proudly. “Now, let’s just have another listen to him. Yep, that sounds much more normal. Keep the rest of that bottle in case he regresses, but I think he will be ok now. Just make sure he gets a bit of hay or fibrous feed before you let him onto the lush grass. Give his gut a chance to adapt to it.” He turned to Brian Smithers. “I reckon you owe old Cooper now, just imagine what the cost of surgery could have set you back. A couple of beers is a pretty cheap cure. The old bugger just loves a meal out and a good yarn.”
“Yes, well,” muttered Brian. “We are grateful, of course, but…”
“I’ll mention it to him on my way past if you like,” said the Vet cheerfully. “No trouble!”
“Oh well, thank you, of course. Yes, hmm, I’ll tell Margaret... and what about the other bottle?”
“Oh, that one? Very important that one.” The Vet picked it up and deposited it carefully amongst his gear.
“Bloody good medicine that.” n
The Vet took a quick swig and nodded approvingly.