It was a call out to Farmer X with a brief history of 3 dead bulls found in the straw yard and 2 further bulls looking very bad.
Farmer X already suspected barley poisoning. The bulls have free access to corn all the time and just recently they had run low on corn. As soon as the troughs were filled up again the bulls gorged themselves.
Although being on farm only 30 minutes later one of the 2 bad looking bulls had already dropped dead. Looking at the 500kg dead animals was a devastating sight.
We caught the still alive bull and treated him with sodium bicarbonate both orally and into the vein, anti inflammatories and antibiotics.
Looking around the others there was another poorly looking bull that almost didn't get up.
We went straight for treatment but during that he got too excited and dropped dead on us too. Looking at his lips and eyes he had become very pale, a sign of suspected internal bleeding.
The rest of the bulls looked bright enough so we just put them on a straw/hay diet with no concentrates/corn for a few days.
Rumen acidosis (barley poisoning, corn overload) results from excessively rapid fermentation following overeating grain or other high starch/low fibre diets.
Symptoms go from mild (rumen atony, cud regurgitation and passing of loose faeces) to more severe (metabolic acidosis, bloated, very dull, weak animals which become ataxic to recumbent.) Bleeding can be found on the lining of the stomach and in very severe cases it can cause bleeding ulcers that can break through.
As soon as you see animals going sick with it there are probably a few more subclinical cases.
Prevention is based on dietary management. With ad lib corn always make sure there is access to palatable fibre, e.g. straw and a possible addition of bicarbonate through the grain mix and never allow them to get hungry (as was the case here!)
Catching up with the client, no further bulls died and even the treated bull survived.
Farmer X slowly started feeding up the bulls with corn to minimise a sudden overload occuring again.