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The vet veteran

Agriculture.com Staff 07/25/2007 @ 10:09am

Imagine you're a fly on the wall and overhear the following conversation:

"Well, Doc, what do you think? How's the patient?"

"Quite frankly, her prospects aren't very good. I'm afraid she isn't going to make it."

"Dang it! I didn't want to hear that! She's one of the best mothers I've ever had!"

"I'm sorry about that, but you should have consulted me sooner. Time is of the essence in a case like this."

"Yeah, Doc, I know, I know. Before you go, I just want to know one last thing: would it be OK if we turned her into hamburger?"

"That is entirely up to you."

Such an exchange, shocking as it may seem, is common if you are a particular kind of doctor, one whose patients tend to be quite smelly and hairy and often uncooperative.

No, I don't mean a physician who cares for professional wrestlers. I am talking about large animal veterinarians.

When I was a little kid Grandpa Nelson often encouraged me to become a vet. "I'll be your driver," he told me with a twinkle in his eye. "And when you get done treating the animals, I'll put the check in the cubbyhole for you."

I don't suppose the fact that Grandpa's favorite activity was visiting with other farmers had anything to do with his plans for me.

Still, I was somewhat tempted by the thought of becoming an animal doctor, especially after I learned that there was a day in November set aside to honor them. But some of the gloss came off when I discovered that the 11th was actually "Veteran's Day."

Grandpa loved to spin yarns about Doc Svaren, his veterinarian back in the day. Grandpa told me how one of Doc Svaren's arms was skinnier than the other due to the innumerable, um, internal examinations he had carried out on horses and cows.

I never did figure out which arm was thinner, the one that did all the palpating or the one that missed out on the, um, fun.

Large animal veterinarians perform some of the ickiest tasks under some of the most deplorable conditions. I should know, since I often asked the vet do such things on my farm.

I once saw a cartoon in a vet's office that depicted a rangy, grungy Hereford cow who is quite obviously on her last legs. Standing next to her is a rangy, grungy, shifty-eyed cowboy who is saying to the nearby vet, "...And then, Doc, I suddenly noticed she didn't look so good."

There was a time when that cartoon could have been me, except for the cow was a Holstein and I was wearing barn boots and a seed corn cap.

I have asked veterinarians to wade into mud holes to deliver calves; I have offhandedly informed them that's it's a tradition at my place to do a Caesarian section on a cow who is wandering about in belly-deep muck.

In spite it all, veterinarians have never failed to come through for me. Thinking back, I can't shake the feeling that they did it more for my animals than for me.

I have seen vets pull off some pretty miraculous feats. For instance, I once had a cow who was suffering from a displaced abomasum. This life-threatening condition arises, I believe, when a cow forgets where she has put her abomasum.

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