Sunday, January 25, 2009


I was out at a farm to pregnancy check and "Bangs" (Brucellosis) vaccinate some heifers. Things seemed to be moving along at an okay pace until we got one heifer that was just a little too impatient. As each heifer would come into the chute we would drop the tail gate so that the next heifer couldn't crowd in as well. This tail gate had a horizontal bar on the top and bottom and then vertical bars about 6 inches apart across the width of the gate. Well miss antsy just didn't have the desire to wait when the gate was dropped in front of her, reared up and stuck her legs over the top horizontal bar. Had this been all there probably would have been no problem as all she needed to do was pull her legs back down and she could stand quietly in the alley. Instead she jumped up stuck both of her back legs through the gate and hooked them over the bottom horizontal bar. Now we had a 700 lb heifer hanging on the back gate of the chute like a monkey. Of course, she was not complacent in her position and after a few seconds of the monkey-cling she began thrashing around. With no room to go forward and all four legs hung up on the gate there was only one option...backwards. Yes, she flipped herself completely onto her back on the ground, wedged between the sides of the alley. Then, like one pig waits for another at the feed trough, the next heifer in the row immediately proceeded to walk right on top of this upside-down heifer to try and push her way into the chute.

Fortunately for me we actually had several people there helping and after we got all of the other heifers out of the chute and alley we devised a plan to get our wedged turtle out as well. We fashioned a rope halter out of a lariat and while one man lifted and pushed on her head, the other three of us pulled on the rope and we were able to flip the heifer back over in the reverse direction that she had just gone. No worse for wear we finished the job and everyone was happy.

When people say cows aren't athletic I think of experiences like this and just smile.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


One of the first questions that I asked before I came to North Dakota to visit was, "How bad are the winters really?" Now keep in mind that I grew up in Montana so a little cold doesn't frighten me. Unfortunately, the person who answered that question for me was also the one who was a transplant to North Dakota and had not been here that many years. His response was "Oh, they really aren't that bad; they are just like Montana winters".

When I came to interview it was the end of November and there was a storm the week I was here. It snowed a few inches, had some wind, and the temperature even dropped a few degrees below zero. Then after we had made the decision to take the job, we came out to house hunt in February. If you guessed that there was another snow storm you are very smart. It snowed several inches and got cold (down around O F again). We weren't too fussed about it after everyone reassured us that we had been here for about the only two storms for the winter, this was about as bad as it gets, and that North Dakota winters really hadn't been that bad for several years.

Fast forward to now. I realize that much of the country is experiencing really potent winter weather, but today's experience warranted some documentation. We are the veterinarians for two sale barns and our duties rotate among the doctors each month so we each get one day a month at each sale barn and they do not cancel due to weather. Today was my day. This morning was bitter much so that when we got gas on our way out of town several of the pumps were not working because they were frozen. As we were driving I was looking across the drifted white landscape and wondered out loud what our snow total was at. We are now at over 6 feet of snow for the year. With over 30 inches in December alone and only one day that came close to 32 degrees since the middle of November, all of the snow is still around. Up till now we have had cold days. However, a new record for ridiculous was set on our drive today. Just before arriving at the sale barn to start our day the thermometer read......
........-40 F !
What a great day to be a large animal vet that works outside!

Sunday, January 11, 2009


One of the adjustments that I had to make coming to North Dakota was the change from "ranchers" to "farmers". Essentially what I mean by this is I grew up in ranching country in Northern Montana where people work cattle while riding horses and they rope the cows from the back of the horse. In contrast, the farmers of North Dakota ride four wheelers, coil a rope like it is an electrical extension cord, and have the vet come out to dart cows. In general, they don't ride and they definitely don't rope.

With that in mind I set out on an unexpected adventure one day this past summer to fix a rectal vaginal prolapse in a cow. I was told that this father and his two sons were actually pretty good cowboys so everything should go smoothly. When I arrived farmer son 1 was waiting and said help would be arriving in a couple minutes. In the meantime he filled me in on the situation and the plan. He said the cow was very tame and that we would just throw a loop over her head, tie her to the truck, and fix the prolapse. Naively I said okay, the other helpers arrived and they were off to bring the cows from back over the hill.

True to their word, the old Hereford cow was mild tempered and farmer son 2 easily tossed a loop over her head. Somewhere between the putting a loop over her head and getter her tied to the truck the plan went rapidly sour. Just as the rope was being dallied around some part of the truck the cow decided she wasn't pleased and took off. With son one running/dragging behind her on the rope, son 2 on the four wheeler, and farmer dad in the pickup the quartet went galloping, dragging, and bouncing out of sight over the hill.

By the time I caught up in my truck things were looking up a bit. The cow was now dallied to the over-sized grill guard and efforts were being made to bring her closer to the truck. Unfortunately, the temperament of this cow had been misjudged and we were now dealing with one very angry cow. Attempts to move her closer with the four wheeler were unsuccessful. So son 1 and 2 took turns trying to get the cow closer on foot...also unsuccessful to the point that the cow was chasing them in circles, first one direction, then the other, around the truck; punctuated by occasional escapes jumping into the truck bed.
Whether by luck or accident someone got another rope around her back feet and tied it to the hitch on the bumper. This was just in time because the rope on the front had begun to fray and she was probably two trips back and forth short of a broken rope and freedom. Unfortunately, though she was tied to both the front and back of the pickup, she could still move about 10 feet and was intent on filling her hunting tag for man. Finally, a bright idea dawned on me. I still had my ace in the hole and it sure didn't look like we were going to win cowboy style. Like a true hunter I got out my dart gun and shot her from about 15 feet away and she went down like a champ wouldn't.

The prolapse had been out for several days, was dry, and hard and was not going back in easily. With a fair amount of cutting and pushing both rectal and vaginal prolapses were reduced and ready to sew up. Unfortunately the adventure wasn't fully complete. Sometimes we tend to do stupid things for no good reason and this was one of those days for me. Instead of using my needle holders to pull the needle with umbilical tape through the skin on the third horizontal mattress suture, I pulled with my hand. Sure enough my wet fingers slipped off the tip of the needle while holding tight and gashed a nice inch and a half long incision in my thumbprint. It was bleeding profusely, but so was the cow, so my attempt to bandage it quickly came off and I just sewed here up the rest of the way without the use of my thumb, all the time assuming that all the blood I was seeing was bovine.

Eventually I did get everything in its proper place, the cow untied and reversed, and my thumb bandaged nicely. Except for the lasting cut on my hand I didn't give much thought to the experience until a few days later when farmer son 1 was in the clinic to pick some things up and I asked how our patient was doing.

"Oh, yeah...she died"

"Really," I replied, somewhat deflated.

"Oh, no, she was doing fine after you worked on her...she just got hit by lightning".