An “Oh Shit Moment”

When in the course of performing my duties as a large animal veterinarian, there have been many times that I have been injured.  Fortunately, none have been too serious.  By the Grace of God, I am certain most instances I have walked away unscathed when I should have in all likelihood been trampled or ground into the dirt like a very ripe tomato. 

There is one particular situation that I recall quite vividly that I would like to make the subject of this tale.  It involves working a group of cattle.  This was, by all definitions, a fairly ordinary group of cattle for Stanly county.  Most Stanly County Cattlemen are not full-time cattle farmers. They have a small herd that they wean calves off periodically and take to the stockyard.  They may or may not vaccinate them every year.  They usually leave the bull in year-round and only call the vet when something goes horribly wrong.  For this occasion, the farmer knew his herd was aging.  He felt that he likely had quite a few in the group that were 10+years old that did not produce a calf last year and may not be pregnant now.   He did not call the vet out to pregnancy check them every year, but he thought now seemed like a good time to find out.  In fact, he had not worked his cows for several years; therefore, he had no reason to use the working facilities on his farm to handle the cattle. 

Working facilities usually include a corral of some size, preferably big enough to hold all the cattle at once comfortably, an alley way from the corral that leads the cattle down to a chute with a head gate.  The head gate catches and holds the cow for the farmer and veterinarian to perform their intended duties safely (like vaccination, dewormed, castration of calves, delivering calves in case of difficult birth, and rectal palpation for determination of pregnancy just to name a few).  He assumed the facilities would be in same shape as he left them the last time, he used them a “couple” years ago. He did not go down to those facilities ahead of time to be sure that all was in working order and that he would encounter no snaffus the day of the appointment. 

The appointment was scheduled for early one morning.  Not too early as he had to get them caught before I got there.  Keep in mind, I charged by the hour for herd work.  I arrived at the location on time, believe it or not, but I could be sure I was in the right place.  The location I went to did not seem to have a working facility that appeared functional.  Mostly a weed covered and disheveled fencing where most of the boards appeared to be about to fall off their posts.  The cows were not there, but I start to see them coming up from the back of the pasture with the farmer and his grown sons pushing the cows up to my location.  One of the sons come driving up to the “corral” and opens a gate.  The cows balk at the gate but with encouragement, they go into the corral and the son shuts the gate behind the last cow and calf that are dragging up the rear. 

Ok, I guess this is the right place! 

The sons commence to hacking away at the weeds surrounding the chute and head gate so that you can see the facility much better.  There is a head gate but no way into the chute from the outside.  Just the rear gate facing the corral.  Ok, well its not the first time I have had to climb a fence to get into a chute.  Today will be no different, right.  Except the fencing is falling apart.   The farmer comes up to me and says, “You’re early”. Actually, I am right on time, I reply. He continues the conversation with “It’s not as pretty as you may be used to, but it’ll do.  I never did put a side door into the chute, so you’ll have to come into the corral with the cows and follow in behind them as they go.  I wouldn’t try to climb over the fence if I were you, the boards don’t look too steady.  I am afraid they may fall off.  I’m hoping the cows won’t be too rough on it today or the fence might come down and then they’ll all be loose.  I think to myself that that is a bit unorthodox and not very safe, but I said what the heck.  I’ll give it a go.  The cows have proceeded to tromp down the weeds inside the corral so the walking is getting better.  The inside diameter of the corral is also fairly large, so there is room to stay away from the cows until I need to go down behind one.  The cows seem calm so far.  No one is trying to kill anybody, yet and no one is trying to climb out, yet. 

I get my sleeves and put my lube bottle in my pocket.  The owner plans to age the cows at the front (by looking at their teeth, if they don’t have any, he plans to cull those) and his eldest son is going to be in the corral with me pushing up the individual cows down the alley way into the chute.  Once they are caught in the head gate, I will come in behind them and palpate her.  For those we are still not sure about at this point, I am going to stick my sleeve covered arm up her rectum and feel for a fetus in the uterus.  IF she is not pregnant, she too may go to the stockyard, but he hasn’t decided that yet, not for sure. It depends on how old she is. 

The first go well.  No major incidences.  Some do not like the idea of going towards the head gate, but the son gets it done in an applaudable time frame.  There are about 40 in this herd.  A good number for this “facility”.  As with every group of cattle on the planet, there are always a few that do not like to be caught.  They filter themselves to the back and are the last to remain in the corral.  ALWAYS.  These are the same cows that elude the truck going to the stockyard because they escape the corral or cannot be brought up from the back 40 acres.  The son is determined to get this one cow in the chute because if she is not pregnant, she is going on that trailer to the stockyard.  She is likely 15yrs old and has not had a calf in 3 years.  She is also the most temperamental out in the pasture and has charged them several times.   Great!

The longer she is in the corral, the more worked up she is becoming.  I am trying to stay off her radar, but there are so many places to be in this thunder dome of rotten boards and rickety fence with nowhere to climb up and escape.  Its not long before she zeros in on me and puts her head down and bee lines it right for me.  I am absolutely certain a few choice words came out of my mouth and made a split-second decision to try and climb up the fence anyway.  Because that is the rule.  You cannot outrun her.  You climb up to escape. I scurried up the first three boards and she is still hot on my tail.  I get to the 4th (upper most) board and it pops off in my hands and I fall backward into the corral and into the path of the charging she demon.  It was a moment of “my life flashed before my eyes” because I knew I was done for.  There was no way I was getting out of this mess without some hoof prints on me.    To my shear wonder and surprise, I fell back and landed square on my butt and turned to see the cow veer in another direction away from me.  I sprang up onto my feet and said thank you, Jesus about 10 times between rapid breaths.  The she demon then proceeded to make a run at the fence and leapt into the air nearly clearing the fence.  Nearly.  She came down on the boards and it crumbled like a high school popsicle stick science project.  The remaining 5 cows following right behind her. 

Well, I guess we are done for this appointment.