Maria and Hank Franken were struggling with a first-calf heifer that wouldn’t allow its calf to suckle. It’s not an uncommon problem during calving season but it’s one that can be frustrating and time consuming to solve.
This time, they had a solution. It was a device called the Easy Boss E, a stainless steel curved esophageal tube that is inserted into an animal’s mouth to serve as a distraction.
“She was kicking her calf when it was trying to drink so we put the Easy Boss E in, and my husband put the calf underneath and I held (the Easy Boss E) in and after maybe 20 minutes I took it out and she never kicked the calf again,” said Maria, who farms near Rivers, Man.
“She just stayed quiet. The calf could go anywhere. It was just enough to distract her. She had no problems with it after that. Basically what the cow does is she tries to chew on it, so then that completely distracts her from everything else.”
Oral distraction is indeed the basic idea behind the simple device.
Dr. Don Finlay, a veterinarian originally from Manitoba who has also practiced in Australia and New Zealand, has established a patent and is marketing the product in Canada.
Finlay did not invent the device but he became aware of it in the early 2000s and saw its merit.
“I don’t know if the primal behaviour of chewing is a happy spot for cows or sheep, but as a prey species people will say they didn’t ruminate unless it was safe. They did their feeding at times when they couldn’t be captured or caught,” said Finlay.
Replicating that sense of safety and the experience of chewing can keep cattle calm for such things as ear tagging, semen testing and branding.
Finlay said a number of veterinary clinics in Western Canada have purchased and are using the devices. Olds College in Olds, Alta., the University of Calgary veterinary school and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology have used them, as have several veterinary clinics across the West.
Finlay has been making the rounds of various trade shows to explain the device’s merits and make sales.
“Producers are way faster to adopt this than veterinarians,” he said.
Among those producers is Trevor Atchison, owner of Poplar View Stock Farm near Pipestone, Man.
“It certainly has worked in the instances when we’ve used it,” he said, noting he and his crew have used it while semen testing bulls.
“The only difficulty is inserting it in their mouth and once you get that part done … they keep chewing on it until you’re done whatever you’re doing.”
Finlay said all company data emphasizes that the Easy Boss E is not intended to replace pain management and pain control for extensive procedures on cattle. Its purpose is to make various minor or common procedures less stressful for both cattle and handlers.
That aspect has Franken’s vote.
“Being a two-person operation, it’s just my husband and I, so for us, safety has always been an issue. Anything that can … shorten the time where its less stress on the cattle and safer for us, I’m willing to give that a try any time.”
She said she spent about $100 for one Easy Boss E, which she saw at Ag Days in Brandon.
“If you think about it, there’s $100 that can be spent or you have to call a vet to help you. Or when its -50 C out and it’s taking you two hours longer. I heard one guy talking and he said, ‘well, I’ve spent $100 stupider ways.’ ”
Finlay said the University of Wisconsin is conducting a trial involving the device but it was also the subject of a 2013 paper from veterinarians at the University of Saskatchewan including Dr. Joseph Stookey.
In a draft of that paper provided by Finlay, researchers indicated positive results.
“The results of the current study suggest that an oral distraction reduces the amount of struggle that steers undergo while in a headgate. Steers that were freeze-branded and those that were sham-branded, with the oral insert, exerted lower average and maximum levels of force on the headgate than those without the oral insert,” the paper said.
“This device could potentially be used during veterinary services and routine procedures to reduce the amount of struggle and kicking by an animal. Reducing the struggle in the headgate and chute can decrease the time procedures take, and may increase safety for the animals and humans.”