Cow and Sheep Blood Draw “Fun”

Yesterday morning we drew blood for the cow and sheep pregnancy tests.  I have an education in animal sciences, was a vet tech, and have drawn blood from many many animals of all different species.  But…I have never done cattle nor sheep.  BUT…I have done horses and goats…so I felt pretty confidant.  Drawing blood is drawing blood – no matter the species the concept is the same – the location just differs.

We looked up videos online for the cow and realized that the general place for a draw is under the tail.  Oive.  This might be interesting.  The cow in the video barely flinched, but Violet isn’t your average laid-back dairy cow in a chute.  She is a somewhat high-strung, dairy cow/beef cow mix breed, that only has a head catch stanchion to restrain her.  Just to get an idea of how she might react, a few days ago, my husband tried to raise her tail up after milking while she was still in the stanchion.  He was met with jumping, kicking, angry cow.  Oh, dear.

It’s ok, I said to him.  I have dealt with many animals that didn’t want blood drawn, you just get it done.  Famous last words.  I didn’t even check videos for sheep because I figured they would be just like goats and horses, where you have a nice ditch running along the side of the neck where the vein is neatly available for the draw.

Morning dawned and we headed up to the barn at about 5:45 because we had to leave the house by 8 for an appointment on our way to the lab.  After milking, we hobbled the cow and went for it with lifting the tail and starting the draw.  Husband decided to do the stick because he didn’t want me getting kicked if something went wrong.  He hit the vein right away and the vacutainer began filling, within about 2 seconds the bucking started, and the kicking against the hobbles.  The needle slipped, blood stopped, and the fight began.  Within a minute the cow had gotten herself so upset that she went down on the cement, head still in the stanchion.  She was NOT having it.  We had about 1/2 inch of blood in the vacutainer.  And we were NOT going to try again after she went down.  She was going to hurt herself or one of us.  We just hoped that we had enough, and if not we would have to try again or maybe try the milk test I just found out about from a blog comment (thank you corrina).

On to the sheep.  They were just shorn, so we thought that was convenient.  Unfortunately, a shorn sheep does not mean a sheep shaved for blood draw.  We realized we would have to shave them.  And while I was examining them I noticed something…there was no “ditch” where the vein runs.  What the heck?  I palpated their necks and searched and tried to figure out where the vein was, with no success.  So we got out the little clippers we use for shaving the cow’s udder and tried to shave Fiona’s neck.  HA!  No way, not happening.  Those little clippers were no match for the wool, no matter the fact that it was shorn to less than 1/8 inch long.

I headed inside to find the heavy-duty animal clippers and to try to find a video on a sheep blood draw while Husband did the barn chores.  After watching the video I was not happy to find that they don’t really have a way to clearly find the vein.  I watched closely to get the general area to look and hoped I’d be able to find it.

We started with Fiona, figuring the white sheep with pink skin would be easier to figure out than the black skin on the dark sheep.  We were right.  I shaved her up, felt around, and was able to get it first try.  Filled the vacutainer no problem.  We were so glad!  I don’t have a lot of experience with the vacutainers, I mostly have used syringes, so I was happy it went well, especially since during it I felt like I needed at least two more hands.  We moved on to Stella.  Got her shaved.  Could NOT find the vein.  Searched and searched.  Finally found it and went for it, with no blood flow.  Dang it.  Moved the needle a bit, searching for it.  Nope.  Pulled out, forgetting that the vacutainer loses it’s vacuum if you remove the needle with it attached.  Dang it.  Luckily, we had them send extras.  Second round, same results.  Once I tried twice I started getting upset and anxious.  I felt like I was just blindly sticking the sheep hoping to hit something…which is NOT what we wanted.  Husband decided to give it a try.  He has an idea of how it is done by watching me so many times, and I think he has done it once on a goat…and I was not going to stick her again.  But the problem was that I was going to have to restrain the biggest of our two sheep.  Luckily, she was being an angel and being so tolerant of it all.  We had her sitting on her behind like they do when they shear them.  So I held her and husband searched, and found it, and got blood first try.  YEAH!

With a big sigh of releif, we loaded up our samples with an ice pack and headed out.

The woman at the lab said that she thought that they would be able to work with the small amount of cow blood.  I SO hope she is right.  I do not want to have to go back into that tail vein EVER again if at all possible.

So now we anxiously patiently await the results!

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