Another Witch, Another February

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I turned into the old farm’s long driveway off of Cochran Creek Road, north of Brownsville. I had been here only a couple of times before. The farm did have some character, with an old barn nestled up against a hillside, and an old trailer not far from the barn that served as the living quarters.

Duane had lost his wife some years ago and lived by himself now. They had planned to build a house, but I think Duane was content to live in the trailer for now. He was a well-built guy whose black hair was accented by patches of gray at both temples.

This February has been particularly wet, with heavy rains almost every day. Massive dark clouds filled the sky this afternoon.

Duane had called about a cow with some sort of a prolapse. But he didn’t leave any instructions about where he had the cow. We stopped at the corral that was out by the main road. We had worked cows in this corral before.

“I hope she’s not in this corral, it looks like it is a sea of mud from the rains,” I said more to myself than to Joleen. “At least it is not freezing.”

“Oh no,” Joleen said as we pulled up to the corral. “That mud must be a foot deep. The good thing is there is no cow, and I don’t see Duane.”

“Let’s go on up to the barn,” I said. “I don’t know if he uses it except for picture taking, but if he does, we might be undercover if these clouds decide to dump buckets on us.”

At one time, it had been a functional barn. Now it was picturesque but aged almost beyond use. Himalayan briers reached high on the sides of the barn. There were a few openings through the vines that were kept open by foot traffic. There were multiple holes visible in the roof from missing shingles, and the barn wood was weathered by time to a delicate steel gray. The barn looked like it should grace a canvas in someone’s living room.

Duane stepped out from under the barn’s front part and waited for us in a pathway through the berry vines. The barn sat against the hill, and the slope provided enough room under the front of the barn for a small corral. At least we would be dry.

A large Santa Gertrudis cow stood in the middle of the corral. She looked less than happy at all the attention she was getting. There was nowhere for her to go in the cramped space, but the big red cow turned a few circles looking. I slipped a rope over her head.  The only place to tie her was to the support beam in the corral center. 

“I hope she doesn’t pull the barn down on top of us,” Joleen said as I started an exam on the old cow.

She suffered from a problem that I had often seen in these Brahman-Cross breeds. As they approached the calving date, their cervix becomes enlarged and inflamed. Just this distended cervix hung from her vulva.

“This shouldn’t be much of a problem to fix,” I said to Duane. “But you are going to have to watch her close until she delivers.”

I knew from experience that Duane was not one of those guys who called at 3:00 in the morning with a calving problem. I would have to do a closure on this vulva so that it would tear out quickly if she goes into labor.

Joleen sat out the necessary supplies to do an epidural injection for anesthesia to the vulva. I prepped a small area over her spine, where the tail joined the sacrum. The cow was standing quietly. Standing on her right rear, I grasped the tail with my left hand and palpated for the space between the bones that would allow access for the needle into the spinal canal. With a finger of my right hand on the site, I popped a needle into the space.

The cow jumped. Almost in slow motion, I watched her right leg come up and felt her hock brush my left thigh. In younger days, I maybe could have responded to this stimulus. Now I just sort of observed the symmetry of motion. Her lower leg moved across my thigh roughly. Finally, after a brief eternity, her hoof caught my inner thigh. She extended her leg briskly.

Feeling somewhat like a golf ball that flies into the air off the clubface, I am launched in a sloppy cartwheel toward the distant tangle of berry vines. The next thing I know, I’m picking myself up. Joleen, hushed and concerned, is helping me up, unhooking the grasping vines.

“You damn witch!” I say to the cow, picturing a large pile of hamburger. My thigh is throbbing. It takes no small amount of force to knock me ten or twelve feet.

I get another rope and tie the cow a little more securely. I finish the epidural injection and clean and replace the cervix quickly. My only thought is to get ice on my thigh. I throw a quick closure across the vulva using hog rings and small cotton umbilical tape. The hog rings only pinch a small piece of skin, they will easily tear out with a slight push from mamma.

“She should be able to tear this out when she calves, but you need to watch her closely,” I instruct Duane as we hastily throw things back into the truck. I grab an ice pack out of the cooler and set it on my thigh as I start to pull out of the barnyard.

Spotting a cow out in the field with a pair of feet sticking out of the vulva. Jolene opens her window and hollers at Duane.

“How long has she been in labor?”

“Damnit, Joleen, I need to get this leg iced,” I say with a frown.

“You can handle that, can’t you?” I ask Duane. “She probably will pop that out with no problem.”

“Oh sure, that is no problem for me,” Duane says. “I didn’t even know she was close.”

My thigh has turned multiple shades of red by the time we get back to the office in Sweet Home. It is not the first time I’ve been kicked, and probably won’t be the last. It always seems that it is my left thigh. I’ll limp for a few days with this one.

Photo by Helena Lopes from PexelsCopy

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.

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