A New Crop

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Waiting for Wayne to come down from the house, I leaned on the top rail of the corral and wondered what it was with this heifer that Wayne wanted to be checked. Wayne was a young man and the new owner of this ranch. I had spoken with him on the phone, but this would be the first time I would meet him. 

Looking out over the pasture, I think Jim, the previous owner, would be disappointed. I am sure Wayne was up against a lot of financial pressure. Ranching in the Willamette Valley was never a high-volume operation. Unless you were a purebred breed, you just about had to have another job to make things work. From the looks of things, Wayne was probably just coming to grips with that reality.

“Wayne, it’s good to finally meet you,” I said as I extended my hand. “How are things going?”

“Doc, I am glad you could make it out here today,” Wayne said as he shook my hand. Wayne was dressed in worn Levi’s and a tee-shirt, and his dark farmer’s tan said he had been working a lot outside this summer.

“What’s up with the heifer?” I asked. “I just got the message you had a cow for me to look at, but nothing about what was going on.”

“I’ve bred the whole bunch of heifers with artificial insemination, but this gal has not cycled,” Wayne said. “The sale is tomorrow, and I just wanted you to check her out before I sent her down the road.”

“How did you do your heat detection?” I asked.

“I brought a teaser bull with me from our old ranch,” Wayne said. “He does a pretty good job, but he is getting a little old. This is probably the last year I use him. Do you do any vasectomies around here?”

“I have done a few. There is not a high demand here,” I said. “I did some in school. Several other procedures can be used on a teaser, but a vasectomy is probably fine on a closed herd situation.”

“Well, let’s look at this heifer,” Wayne said. The bull situation can wait till this winter.”

Wayne ran the heifer into the chute and lubed an OB sleeve for a rectal exam. I grabbed her tail with my right hand and inserted my left hand into her rectum. I wasn’t into my elbow when I bumped into the nose of a calf.

“Wayne, where did you learn to do AI?” I asked.

“I took a course from the community college at our old place,” Wayne said. “It was a pretty good course. I use good bulls on my heifers and get some good replacement stock and some good market steers. I breed them before I turn the bulls into the cows. That way, I get all the heifer calving out of the way before cows start calving.”

“That’s good, for several reasons,” I said. “Heifers will have most of your calving problems, so you can concentrate your efforts on them. And, you will have the advantage of giving them more time before breeding after they calve. Maybe someday you should stop by the office, and we can talk about doing some estrus synchronization on your herd.”

“I have been reading about that, but I am not sure I want to jump right into it now.”

“In that course, did they say anything about the reasons for a cow or heifer not cycling?” I asked.

“Well, they had quite a list of things,” Wayne said. “I guess I never paid much attention to that part of things.”

“What did they say was the most common reason for a heifer not to be cycling?” I asked.

“Are you trying to tell me that she is pregnant?” Wayne asked.

“Ah! You didn’t sleep through the class,” I said. “She is pregnant, probably about five months based on the head size of the fetus. I can get a lot closer on aging a pregnancy when we check before ninety days. At this point, it is sort of plus or minus fifteen days.”

“How is that possible?” Wayne asked. “They were not exposed to any bull. I pull those out of the herd after ninety days.”

“How do you castrate your steers?” I asked.

“I band them, usually pretty early,” Wayne said.

“You probably missed a nut,” I said. “That is a common error. Most of those testicles will be up against the body wall, and they will not be fertile. But in all things dealing with reproduction, there are no absolutes. I like to cut those calves, and it is easy when they are a few days old. I will show you sometime if you are interested.”

“So what do I do with this heifer?” Wayne asked.

“Easiest thing, and the safest thing, is to send her to the sale,” I said. “She is not going to fit your calving schedule, but that will be easily adjusted next year. She is a nice heifer with plenty of growth and may deliver this calf okay. But you will be unhappy with me if we are out here doing a C-section in the middle of the night.”

“Yeah, you are probably right. There is nothing special about her,” Wayne said. “I will go ahead and send her to the sale. I can use the cash around here right now.”

“How are things going for you?” I asked.

“We are doing okay. There is just not anything extra right now,” Wayne said. “I get pretty frustrated. We pay such a high price for land around this valley, and then everyone grows grass hay that sells for forty dollars a ton.”

“I have brought that topic up a time or two. Making hay around here is almost a religion,” I said.

“Well, I have to figure out a better crop to plan, something more valuable than grass hay,” Wayne said.

“You might want to talk with some of the grass seed farmers out in the valley,” I said. “If you need an introduction, I know a few of those guys.”

“Not at this time,” Wayne said. “I just have to do some thinking first.”

“Okay, just keep in touch. I’m here to help,” I said. “I’m not much of a crops guy, but I can point you to the right person if you need any help.”


The following spring, I noticed that Wayne had about twenty acres of corn planted. He was irrigating it out of his pond on the little creek that ran through his place. I wondered what he planned to do with the corn at harvest. There was an old silo on the place, but I am sure it had not been used in years. This might be interesting to watch, I thought.


It was not long after that observation that there was an article in the paper. It seems that Wayne had planted more than corn in that field. On one of the sheriff flyovers, they had spotted a large marijuana patch growing in the middle of Wayne’s cornfield. It seemed that Wayne’s ranching days were coming to an abrupt end.

Photo by Crispin Jones on Unsplash.

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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