Lost Skills of Livestock Doctoring

Country remedies for farm and ranch stock.
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Country remedies for farm and ranch stock.
For a colicky horse, a potion of black coffee, whiskey, and linseed oil might be used as a curative.

For a colicky horse, a potion of black coffee, whiskey, and linseed oil might be used as a curative.

Professional veterinarians were few and far between in the open country of the frontier, and those who inhabited it were often left to their own ingenuity when it came to doctoring their livestock. Here are some common cures and home remedies used by the cowboys and cattlemen of the Old West*. 

In a pinch, a potion of black coffee, whiskey, and linseed oil could help a colicky horse. The black coffee acted as a mild laxative, the whiskey reduced muscle tension, and the linseed oil lubricated the digestive track so blockages could more easily pass.

From sores and scratches to proud flesh and lameness, cowboys—then as now—had to deal with the minor injures that seem to plague livestock. The more popular cures included:

· For cuts, bacon grease, pine tar, or tallow would be applied to keep away flies and encourage healing.

· Mud was used on insect and snake bites to draw out poison and infection.

· Cactus leaves—split in half and with the thorns removed—were bound to wounds; their healing properties were similar to those of aloe vera.

· Powdered lime and meat tenderizer could be used to treat proud flesh.

· A poultice of sauerkraut was thought to cure mud fever.

Hoof Dressings
When hooves were looking poor, a tonic of pine tar, lanolin, and turpentine could be liberally applied to toughen up soles, encourage new growth, and keep them from splitting or chipping.

Pinkeye in cattle was painful and contagious. One popular remedy was to apply condensed milk directly into the affected eye; the milk both soothed the inflammation and flushed the eye.

If a horse was choking, pouring water into his ear would cause him to shake his head so violently that that blockage would dislodge. Jumping the horse off a high place or over a wagon tongue was also thought to help.

A little bit of snuff mixed in with a normal ration of grain was thought to control parasites in livestock. To rid a horse, cow, or hog of worms, an ounce or so of chewing tobacco mixed with a scoop or grain was fed to the animal, and within an hour, they would pass the worms. Pouring kerosene or motor oil on the waste killed any surviving adult worms and eggs. 

Old fashioned livestock cures.

Old fashioned livestock cures.

*This article is meant for entertainment purposes only. For medical treatment of animals, seek the advice of a licensed veterinarian.