Who Pays Who

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Johnnie was waiting at the old barn when I pulled off the road. I stopped in front of the barn.

“I have her in the far side of the barn,” Johnnie said with some excitement in his voice. He rested with his elbows on the hood of my truck.

“Is this her first calf?” I asked.

“Yes, and she is sort of a little thing,” Johnnie said. “I have been watching her pretty close, and she has been pushing for a couple of hours. I don’t see anything.”

“Let’s go get a look at her,” I said as I gathered things from my truck. “Will I need a rope?”

“You probably will, she is just loose in the old milking side of the barn,” Johnnie said.

Johnnie was sort of a fixture around Sweet Home. He was probably as old as the barn. Not a large man, but he had a hidden strength and endurance. His gray hair, mostly uncombed, framed his wrinkled face that carried a constant smile. A little chuckle punctuated his conversations. Johnnie came from another generation. He was not a man to ask for help often, and when he did, he would be right there to help the helper.

I had attended a continuing education conference at Colorado State some months before this call. I was talking to an older veterinarian there, telling him about this vet I knew who didn’t carry a rope. 

“Hell, if I didn’t have a rope, I would starve to death,” the old vet said.

That was my thought as I returned to the truck to retrieve my rope.

We entered the barn through the exit door to the milking side. The heifer scrambled to her feet as soon as we entered. She was still pushing as she walked to the far corner and laid back down. I walked up to her, threw the rope over her head, and she did not budge. I fashioned a halter with a loop over her nose and tied her to the stanchions corner. 

I turned around to get my stuff and almost bumped into Johnnie. He was standing there with my bucket of water and calf puller in hand.

“Aw, thanks,” I said. “But you probably want to stand back a little in case she starts dancing around on the end of that rope.”

“I’ll be right here if you need any help,” Johnnie said.

I washed the heifer up and tied her tail out of the way. She was really pushing now, and I could see a foot and the nose of the calf. 

“It looks like it is coming now,” Johnnie said.

I reached in and explored the calf’s position. There was only one front leg was in the birth canal. I plunged my arm in up to my shoulder, and the heifer strains hard, I vocalize.

“What’s the matter?” Johnnie asked as he is standing where a kick by the heifer will knock him right off his feet.

“There is one leg back,” I said. “I don’t have room to reach it. So I am going to put a strap on this leg, return it to the uterus, so I will have room to reach the other leg. Once I get it up, I will be able to pull this leg back into position with this strap.”

That sounded easy when I explained it. This was not something I did every day. I could only remember one other time I had to use this technique. 

It worked like a charm. Pushing the leg back into the uterus gave me ample room to reach deep into the other side, and grabbed the other leg by the cannon bone. I pulled it up the brim of the pelvis and popped the foot into the birth canal. Then with a little pull on the strap attached to the first leg, I had the calf in normal position.

Now came the easy part. I just had to hook up the calf jack and pull the calf out. It should be no problem.

Johnnie was already pulling the parts of the calf jack out of the carrying case. At first, I thought I would just ask him to busy himself elsewhere. But I decided just to use this as a teaching moment. The instruction should keep him occupied.

I started grabbing the parts from Johnnie and explaining how everything went together. He listened with genuine interest. It only took a couple of minutes, and everything was put together.

“Now we just have to position the butt plate below the calf, hook the straps onto the jack, and crank him out of there,” I explained.

Johnnie took that as instruction as to what he was to do. 

Here we are, the heifer is straining, Johnnie and I are struggling to see who gets to put the calf jack in position, and I am sure I am not going to get through this without this old man getting injured.

“Okay, I am all hooked up, and I am going to start pulling this calf,” I said. “When I do this, I am going to pull the end of the bar down toward her feet. So you want to stand over there, behind her back. You might want to sort of hold her steady while I start this pull.”

That worked for a few seconds. When the calf’s head and shoulders cleared her vulva, Johnnie was right there to start clearing mucus from its nose and mouth. Then as I pulled down on the bar to help the hips clear the pelvis, Johnnie was coming around behind me. 

Finally, the calf popped out. 

“Look at that little fella shake his head,” Johnnie chuckled as he helped me pull him away from momma. The heifer jumped up and swung around on the end of the rope, almost knocking Johnnie over.

“I’m okay,” he said as I grabbed him by the arm to steady him. 

With the heifer on her feet, I pulled the calf over under her nose and untied the rope. Then I stuffed everything into the bucket and disassembled the calf jack. 

As we waited a few minutes to make sure the calf was going to be okay, I glanced around the barn. 

“Did you milk cows here?” I asked Johnnie. 

“Oh yes, I milked cows, but that was years ago,” He said.

I looked at some of the old tools hanging on nails along the side of the stall. An old jar of some kind of medicine caught my eye. It was stuck in the corner of a brace that was holding the upper floor. I reached up and picked it up. There was a label on it, probably readable years ago but not now.

“What is this stuff?” I asked Johnnie.

“I don’t rightly know,” he said. “But it is good stuff. I had this growth on my leg, and the doctor wanted to cut it off. The growth, not my leg. I was out here in the barn cleaning things up one day, and I noticed that jar, sorta just like you noticed it. Anyway, I thought, what the heck. I started putting that stuff on my leg, every day for week or so. And to my surprise, that growth just fell off. The old doctor just shook his head.”

“That is quite a story, Johnnie,” I said. “Maybe we should find out what is in this stuff.”

“Naw, we will just leave it right where it was, I might need it again someday,” Johnnie said as he carefully replaced the jar to its resting place.

I was planning to make a couple of trips back to the truck with all my stuff, but Johnnie was right there to drag the pieces of the calf jack along behind me, almost tripping as he made his way out of the barn.

“That calf is going to be fine,” I said. “I would just leave them in there until later this afternoon, make sure the calf is up and nursing.”

“Okay, Doc, I will stop by the office and pay you in a couple of days,” Johnnie said.

“I don’t know, maybe I am the one who should be doing the paying, for all your help this morning.”

Johnnie just snickered and waved his arm as he headed back to the barn to check the calf.

Photo credits: Miner Ranch

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

3 thoughts on “Who Pays Who

    1. Never! I have no idea, I did no open the jar. I am a little curious now, the barn is still there??


    2. Maybe, when I get around to putting this in a book, I should write it as if I am telling stories to a little granddaughter sitting on my knee. That way I could expand on them to answer all ‘her’ little questions.


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