We introduced our blog several months ago as a way to keep our clients and friends informed about animal health and current happenings at Snake River Veterinary Center. We have tried to blog about topics that are interesting and pertinent to our clients. Recently, our office manager, Janine, suggested that maybe it was time for funny story about something that has happened to me during my career as a veterinarian. I told her I would give it some thought.
When I think about stories involving veterinarians and animals, Dr. James Herriot immediately comes to mind. Many of us read all Creatures Great and Small as well as other books by this very famous veterinarian and author. In fact, many veterinarians will tell you that James Herriot was the inspiration for pursuing their careers. So, what could I come up with to rival Dr. Herriot? In 17 years of veterinary practice, what funny things have happened to me? Many events come to mind, although very few of them were funny at the time. I look back at them now and laugh, but they often involve some sort of animal/veterinarian mishap at my expense. After careful consideration, I decided to share an event that occurred almost 13 years ago. It involves a cow, some mud, and thank goodness, no cameras.
I was called by a ranch client of mine to check about 100 beef cows for pregnancy. For those of you who are not familiar with the process of “preg checking”, it involves reaching into the cows rectum (wearing a long plastic glove) and feeling for a calf in the cow’s uterus below. It is a common procedure and despite how it sounds, really not all that bad. During my career, I have preg checked thousands of cows and am called to provide this service frequently. Honestly, it is a service I enjoy providing- it means working outside with good people.
When the scheduled date arrived, I was met with typical winter weather. It had snowed during the night after a drenching rain the day before. It wasn’t too cold for a November day, but it sure was wet. The process started like it usually does. I proceeded to gear up with insulated coveralls, a warm jacket, hat, gloves and, of course, a shoulder length plastic sleeve. Now, I understand that the thought of putting ones arm in the rear end of a cow is something that most people would not even consider. I assure you it is not nearly as bad as it sounds. In fact, I have always contended that no matter how cold the day, my left arm is always warm when preg checking.
The plan was simple. I would check each cow as she came through the squeeze chute and place a mark on her hip based on her pregnancy status. Pregnant cows would be let out to the left and into a large pen. Open cows, or non pregnant ones would be let out to the right, past where we were working and into a pen behind us. A rather simple plan that, in theory, would work well.
The cows worked through the chute quickly and before we knew it there was a fair number of pregnant cattle in the “bred” pen and none in the “open” pen. This was good news for the rancher because cows without babies are not making the owner any money. Finally, as is inevitable, I found an open cow. She was a big Hereford Angus crossed cow and weighed in the neighborhood of 1500 pounds. A rather large cow as far as beef cattle go. Keep in mind, open cows are not usually consider a good thing on the ranch and are often sold. She was sent to the right, into the open pen behind us to be dealt with later.
We continued to work the cows through, finding them pregnant and sending them to the left. I noticed the single open cow, now behind us, was beginning to get antsy. She didn’t like being by herself and wanted to be in the bred pen with her friends. Cows are like that, they want to be with herd mates. The open cow was no different. She watched as all the other cows were let out of the chute and went to the left. She obviously didn’t understand why she went to the right. I don’t think she got the bred cows to the left, open cows to the right concept. Frankly, she probably didn’t care. She got more and more distraught as time went on, pacing the fence, looking for a way to join the herd.
Honestly, the cow made me a little nervous and I kept an eye on her when I could but I had to keep working. I reached in to a particular cow to have a feel when I heard one of the guys yell “watch out, here she comes!”. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the open cow running straight at me, headed to the pen on the left side to be with her friends. There was only one way for her to get there and it involved running by me or over me, around the front of the chute into the left pen. The problem was, there wasn’t any room to run around me. I quickly realized she was going to get where she wanted to be and I was standing in her way. There was only one direction for me to go. I had to out run her around the front of the chute to give her room. Mind you, I had to pull my left arm out of the cow I was checking first. It all happened in slow motion. I removed myself from the cow in the chute and started running to the front. Most of you who know me, realize I don’t have a track star physique. Running is not, and has never been my strong point. Couple that with being bundled up for cold weather and well, you can imagine it was a recipe for disaster. Remember, it was pretty sloppy due to the wet weather. The area in front of the chute had become a quagmire with all the cows walking through it. As I ran toward the front of the chute, a very short distance, I thought I was going to make it. When I tried to turn to go around it, however, my feet came out from under me and I went down in the mud, landing on my left side. It couldn’t have been more perfect. One half of me was soaked and covered in mud. Mud was crammed in my ear, mouth, and left eye. If I would have stood up, It would look like someone had painted my left side black and not touched my right.
I knew the cow was hot on my tail and my only hope was that she would step over me as she went by instead using me to get better traction. I lucked out, kind of…… the cow saw me lying in the mud as she rounded the corner and decided to jump over me. Good news? No, as she began her leap, her hind legs came out from under her. She landed, you guessed it, right on top of me. I watched to whole thing unfold with my right eye, my left eye still covered with mud. The whole thing happened in a few seconds but it seemed like forever. The first thing that went through my head was “this is going to hurt”. The second and third things through my mind were “I hope Life Flight gets here quickly” and “how are they going to find me in this mud?”. The cow landed on me udder first. Surprisingly it didn’t hurt at all. It felt soft, fuzzy, and kind of warm. Except for driving me deeper into the mud, so far I was unhurt. I think the cow was as surprised as I was. She scrambled to get up and run away but the slick mud made it difficult for her to get traction. Lucky for her she was able to use my legs as leverage and to lift herself off me and run to join her friends.
As I lay in the mud, wondering if everything was intact, my client ran over to check on me. It took a couple of guys to lift me out of the slop an on to my feet. Slowly I realized I was okay. Everything seemed to work. Except for a few bruises from being used as a traction device and mud packed in to my left ear, I was unscathed. I washed as best I could, dug mud out of my ear, changed my clothes and went back to work. We were , by the way, only half way finished.
So the next time you hear the children’s nursery rhyme about the cow jumping over the moon, you might wonder to yourself “How muddy is it and is there a veterinarian in the way?’.