Kingsnorth Vets – 18th September 2013

Now I am in the sixth form, I have free periods. I am going to try and use my time wisely during these frees, therefore every Wednesday afternoon I am going to do work experience. Fortnightly, I visit the RSPCA Ashford Garden Cattery, where I help with cleaning and handling the cats, and on the alternating weeks I spend several hours at Cinque Ports Vets, Kingsnorth. Here I help out and watch consults, always learning something new.

Today, I went to Kingsnorth Vets from 4.00 to 7.00. I began by cleaning out kennels and rinsing both an endoscope, which had been inside the stomach of a dog, and a bronchoscope, which had looked into and dog’s lungs. I had to be very careful because they were microfiber, so I gently inserted a small brush on a long wire inside the tubes, squirted them with the diluted disinfectant they had been soaking in and gently scrubbing the ends.

After this, the head nurse left for the night, leaving the nurse who was on call whilst I went into consults. I saw many vaccinations of dogs, cats and a rabbit, who was being vaccinated against myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease. Rabbits used to require boosters every 6 months but since a new myxomatosis vaccine has been developed which needs only annual boosters, just like VHD. The most memorable injection was into a nine week old, Chihuahua pug cross. The dog was tiny and the owners were terrified of the injection hurting it. As soon as the needle touched its skin, it yelped wildly and squirmed away from the vet. Holding it tightly despite the looks of shock from the owners, the vet continued to jab the dog as fast as possible whilst it screamed in protest. The vet said it was the worst cries she had heard in her whole career and the puppy still whimpered feebly as it was carried out. The next two clients both asked what had we done to that poor little dog!

A French Bull Dog was brought in to check to see if she was pregnant. The owners had mated her twice about 7 weeks previously and had thought that she was pregnant because of her rapid mood swings and apparent ‘morning sickness’. However, if an egg had been fertilised, the puppies would be due in about 10 days. The vet massaged her abdomen and concluded that she almost certainly was not pregnant. At this stage in pregnancy the puppies’ bodies should be clearly felt and it would be expected for the mother to have a swollen abdomen. None of these signs were present, and the vet said that the side effects could have been the result of a false pregnancy. I asked why false pregnancies happened and the vet told me that after being mated, dog’s hormones can respond as if and egg has been fertilised even if it has not. This means that the teats and abdomen swell and the dog begins nesting. The vet told me that this could be a trait left from wolves because all the female wolves in a pack will produce milk and help feed the pups of the alpha female, even though they have no pups of their own.

Another dog came in for a check up. This dog had had trouble in the past when several large tumours had been found in its mouth. An operation was done and the lumps were removed whilst a sample was sent to the lab. Here, they found that it was a very rare type of cancer so did lots of research and tests, free of charge. This was a positive result for the labs to have this new piece of information, but while the dog was staying in kennels, the vets found that it had an anal gland infection as well. This check up confirmed that the dog was fit and healthy after responding well to the anal gland medication.

Earlier today had been very hectic with lots of operations happening. One operation had been on a dog which had eaten three socks and a tea towel. It had thrown up two of the socks but after being continually sick it had been brought in and underwent surgery which successfully removed the remaining sock and tea towel. The owners had come in to talk to the vet and see the dog. The dog was still very drowsy and was taking a long time to come round from the anaesthetic as it had been so ill before hand, the owners were very upset but the vet assured them that he was just taking his time and would be perfectly fine. Many owners feel guilty for the accidents that happen causing injury to their animals, and often a vet has to deal with this, helping the owners to realise that accidents happen to everyone and it is only hindsight which allows us to feel this guilt.

When animals come in for vaccinations, it often presents a good opportunity for a routine check up. This proved to be valuable for an owner with a nervous cocker spaniel who kept licking his feet. Although this could be behavioural, the vet suggested that it could be down to an allergy, possibly caused by harvest mites which are prevalent during this time of year. If the owner wanted to, he could give the dog any form of antihistamine as it would not do any harm but may help prevent the symptoms if they were related to an allergy.
Cats often have problems with fleas, and when one cat was having a vaccination, the owner asked about this. Her cat had always been an indoor cat but she was worried that she may have brought fleas into the house with her. The vet combed through the cat’s fur and found fleas around the neck and tail. She advised the owner that it is most important to treat the house and use prevention in the form of Frontline or other similar products on the cat. Fleas are often an on going nuisance which need continuous perseverance in all aspects to eliminate their rapid reproduction.

During the consults, I was asked to help draw up syringes of a morphine derivative, non-steroid pain killer which an owner needed to inject into his cat daily. 14 syringes needed preparing so I worked alongside the nurse and as it was my first time doing this, I found it quite tricky. The most essential thing to remember is not to get air inside and by the end, I felt I was improving and could definitely see that this was a skill to be practised and perfected.

Sharks Asexually Reproducing

Last year, I visited the London Aquarium. I really enjoyed seeing all the sealife and was impressed at the emphasis they had put on conservation. All around the walls were ‘fun facts’ and one of these caught my attention. It said that sharks can asexually reproduce and immediately I wondered how this was possible.

Female sharks are able to reproduce without the need for a male shark through the process of parthenogenesis. Parthenogenesis is the process of a female gamete becoming an individual without fertilisation taking place. It is known to happen in wasps, bees and ants who do not have sex chromosomes as well as some species of reptile, fish and very rarely, birds.

Normal gametes are produced by meiosis and have half the number of chromosomes than their parent cell. This means that they are haploid. However, some offspring of parthenogenesis can be diploid. These are called full clones, whilst those which only have half the mother’s alleles are called half clones.
Full clones can only normally be formed without meiosis taking place and instead, the embryo is produced by apomictic parthenogenesis in which mature egg cells are formed by mitosis and then develop into embryos.
Half clones are formed by meiosis and therefore can be haploid. However, as haploid individuals are generally not viable, there are various mechanisms through which diploidy can be restored. These are called automictic parthenogenesis. Methods of automictic parthenogenesis include the duplication of DNA without cell division, before or after meiosis, as well as the fusion of two blastomeres.

This process of parthenogenesis is amazing and I find it incredible the number of species which can do it. Sharks were first found to asexually reproduce in 2001 with a bonnethead shark. After research, it was shown that this offspring contained only half of her mother’s DNA and therefore, automictic parthenogenesis must have taken place. Since then, several other recordings have been made in aquariums and zoos of parthenogenesis happening. Although this process of nature is a fantastic invention for overcoming the problem of females finding males, it prevents the formation of genetic diversity which is essential for species to stay alive and evolve in the changing world. All shark half clones produced are females so if parthenogenesis continues to happen, the male shark population will become depleted and asexual reproduction will happen even more, leading the shark population into a vicious cycle.
However, at present this has not been recorded as a problem so let us hope that nature’s phenomenon can remain just that for centuries to come.

Livestock Event 2013

As part of my work experience on Street Farm Dairy, I had the opportunity to go to Birmingham on Wednesday 4th July to visit the livestock event, featuring National Dairy and Charolais Shows. After getting up at 4am, we arrived in Birmingham at 8am in a coach full of farmers and their families. I was with a friend and as we walked towards the National Exhibition Centre, the smell of cows greeted us and the sight of hundreds of tractors being promoted. This event was an opportunity for many different organisations, whose work related to dairy farming, to set up a stall and promote their product or business. During the day, there were also shows for many different cattle breeds, mainly featuring the huge charolais cows. As well as this, every hour or so, experts were giving lectures about different areas of farming. My friend and I spent the day wandering around and looking at the different stalls as well as listening to a few lectures. On top of this, we managed to spend lots of time visiting the huge number of cows, lined up ready to be showed, and petting the Jersey Calf which could be won as part of a tombola!

The stands in the exhibition were divided into 11 sections: genetics, slurry muck and irrigation, housing and storage, diversifarm, milkmade, animal health, business management, livestock equipment, machinery, feeds and forage, and milking. Many of these sections then featured lectures as well.
I found it most interesting that there was so much emphasis on genetics, suggesting the fast modernising world of farming. For dairy farmers, it is important that the majority of offspring are female and therefore it is becoming a necessity to have sexed semen. Many stands I saw were arguing and promoting their semen as being the ‘best’. They claimed to have the highest rate of female births and produce cows which produced good quality and large quantities of milk.
I also found it interesting that ‘diversifarm’ was suggesting that farmers undertake extra money making methods such as selling ice cream, this suggested to me that dairy farmers no longer have the demand and Street Farm Dairy has not been the only farm struggling with profit.
In addition to this, many stands were putting emphasis on introducing renewable energy into a farm. With lots of space and energy being used at a high rate, farming could be a good market to introduce solar panels and wind turbines into. But I felt that many farmers would rather spend their money elsewhere.
Another stand which suggested to me a waste of money was the idea of machinery milking cows. There was an example machine set up and the whole process, from cleaning the teats to the milking itself was done by machine without the need for a human to even be present. I didn’t think that this was a good idea. I couldn’t help but consider what could happen if the machinery went wrong and hurt not only the cow but also the milk yield, wasting the farmer’s money and damaging the farming business. It also seemed to take much longer for the machine to carry out milking as it had to use lasers to find the teats and position itself accordingly. It took up a lot of room, was very expensive and still only milked one cow at a time. The computing behind it must be incredible but is this the farming of the future? I hope that it is not, for one of the most amazing parts of the dairy farm I have seen during my experience is the relationship between the farmer and his animals. Machines cannot have relationships and will leave unemployment in their path.

I was particularly interested in the animal health area where there were many stands belonging to veterinary businesses as well as several vets giving lectures. We listened to one on calf health and although it was aimed at farmers and how they could change their methods of rearing young, I still found it very interesting and learnt a lot that I did not know before. One significant factor which inevitably affects the health of a calf is when the calf is separated from its mother and when it is weaned. Calves need colostrum, which is the milk produced by mammals just before giving birth. It is essential for the health of the animal because it contains antibodies, needed to build up an initial immune system as well as containing a high proportion of protein, aiding growth. However, there was some debate as to the best way for calves to sufficient colostrum before being separated from their mother. The obvious solution would be to leave the calf with its mother for several days, however, this milk may not have the highest proportion of colostrum and the longer the calf is allowed free reign on how much milk it drinks, the less milk being produced for the farm. One farmer spoke during the lecture to tell us how he dealt with new born calves. This farmer kept stores of frozen colostrum, which he chose using equipment to measure the proportion of colostrum in the milk. The milk which was the purest proportion of colostrum, he took and stored. When a calf is born, he immediately takes it from its mother and within the first hour, hand feeds it a large amount of defrosted colostrum. This needs to be repeated several times on that first day and then slowly the milk proportions can change and as soon as possible, the calf can be weaned as it has had a good nutrient intake. Whilst this is happening, the mother will be milked and the highest colostrum proportions will be stored and the mother can contribute to the milk yield. However, is it right to take a calf from its mother immediately? I ask myself this question and yet I still am uncertain of the answer.
Another question which arises to do with calf health is their housing. Is it better to keep calves separately or in groups? The vet suggested that there were a number benefits to both methods. When calves are kept by themselves, it ensures that they get all the food they need and are not intimidated or ‘bullied’ by larger animals. It also means that the farmer can observe the animals individually and will be more likely to spot any problems. However, research has suggested that keeping calves together can develop a stronger immune system and therefore have a positive long term effect on the herd for the calves have a better survival rate and live longer, having more calves and ultimately producing a greater milk yield. In addition to this, when kept in small groups, calves develop social skills from a very young age and will be more likely to be settled and happy when introduced to the main herd, making this stage of their life better and less stressful for both the cattle and the farmer. Because of these numerous pros and cons, the vet left it as an open question to which every farmer could decide upon an answer.
The vet also ran over a number of points concerning the lack of attention many farmers give their calves. She emphasised the need to investigate causes of death and find solutions to prevent diseases, such as calf pneumonia, damaging the future of the cattle. Finally she concluded that farmers often underestimate the importance of calf health despite the fact that it can have such a huge impact on the future productivity of the farm.

I really enjoyed my day at the NEC and although by the end I was tired and exhausted, I left clutching the official guide which is a fountain of knowledge from which I can continue to benefit as I look into the issues affecting dairy farming.