The Beard

D. E. Larsen, DVM

There was a fresh dusting of snow on the road as I pulled into the back of the clinic. It was early, but I had just finished treating a cow with milk fever.

Don, the other associate veterinarian in the Enumclaw clinic, came through the door before eight.

“I’m thinking we should grow beards,” Don said as he looked through the morning appointment schedule. “I was at the sale barn yesterday, and many of the guys are growing them for the bi-centennial. What do you think?”

This was February in 1976, and the weather was cold for western Washington. I had been working here for almost a year, and most of the dairymen accepted my services. 

“It’s cold enough that a beard might be a good thing,” I said. “I think Sandy would be okay with it.”

“Well, I didn’t shave this morning,” Don said as he collected his invoices for the morning schedule.

***

That was the start of the beard. In those years, my beard came in thick and heavy. It quickly got longer than Sandy’s liking, but she was tolerant, thinking that it would be gone after July fourth.

When we visited Sweet Home and met with the bank and Jim Stock to arrange for the clinic’s construction, I was in a full beard, and I would guess that I was close to the only person in town with a beard.

As things turned out, we moved to Sweet Home shortly after Derek was born in May, our fourth child. And, not wanting to look like a hippie to new clients, I shaved without giving it much thought.

***

When the weather turned cold in the fall of that first year in Sweet Home, I quit shaving and grew a full beard again.

Sandy tolerated it, and there were no clients who objected. Masking for surgery was a bit of an issue. I would use a hood to cover my hair and face, and the standard surgical mask sealed against the hood with no problem.

I shaved in the late spring and summer months for several years and grew a beard in the fall, winter, and early spring months.

***

It was a warm spring day when I pulled into the driveway of the Marble ranch. I was scheduled to do pregnancy exams on their cow herd. It was one of my large herds. Large for western Oregon, but small compared to some of the herds we checked when I was in school in Colorado. Checking over four hundred cows by rectal exam tested one’s endurance. My herds in Sweet Home were usually less than a hundred cows, with a few herds over that number.

I liked the work for a couple of reasons. The pace was slow enough that we had lots of time to discuss any number of herd health issues. We would discuss breeding strategies. I liked to have a herd shoot for a forty-two-day calving season. That was two cycles for a cow. I was pretty good at pregnancy exams. When checking cows from forty-five to ninety days of pregnancy, I could get within plus or minus five days with a rectal exam.

Pregnancy diagnosis and aging that pregnancy took practice. Actually, it took a lot of practice. The first step was to retract the uterus. This was not difficult with an early pregnancy. But after ninety days, it became more difficult, and a uterus that was over four months pregnant could not be retracted.

Once the uterus was retracted, one could carefully palpate the entire length of both uterine horns. At forty-five days of pregnancy, an amnion is easily palpated and is two fingers on its long axis. The fetal head can usually be palpated and sized at one finger width across the poll and a finger and half, poll to muzzle by ninety days.

Getting to that forty-two-day calving season usually took a few years. It required breeding heifers early so they would be the first to calve. That way, the rancher could provide his full attention to the heifer herd. It would also give those twenty percent of the heifers who had difficulty birthing a little more time to get their uterus in shape for breeding.

By paying attention to birthing problems and providing good nutrition following calving, most of the cows would be ready for the bulls. Turning the bulls in with the cows would see over seventy percent of the herd get pregnant in the first twenty-one days. Pulling the bulls out at day forty-two would cover over ninety percent of the cows. The others would be culled. Not that they had any problem, but if they were late in getting pregnant, one would never regain that time. Pretty soon, the ranch would be calving for half the year, and sooner or later, the cow would skip a year. 

The good thing about doing herd work at the Marble Ranch was lunch. Ag would always have a hearty homemade soup along with homemade bread. Served with ample casual conversation.

“It must be about time for you to shave your beard,” Ag said.

“Yes, it looks like spring is here, and summer will not be far behind,” I said. “Sandy doesn’t say much, but I think she likes it when I shave.”

“I think you should leave it,” Ag said. “When you shave, it makes you look too young.”

“Do you think so?” I asked.

“People like a certain level of maturity in their professionals,” Ag said. “I know you are in your mid-thirties, but you look too young when you shave and cut your hair like you are in the Army.”

“At the last State Veterinary Conference, a group of us young guys were talking,” I said. “It was pretty much the group’s consensus that anybody with a little grey hair would be believed over us, young guys. And it didn’t matter how outdated their opinion happened to be.”

“That’s exactly right,” Ag said. “You need to wear that beard to counteract that from happening.”

At dinner that night, I brought to subject up to Sandy.

“Ag thinks I shouldn’t shave,” I said. “She thinks I look too young when I shave. I sort of agree with her. Maybe I should wear this beard year-round.”

“Your mother will not be happy with that decision,” Sandy said.

“I’m not worried about my mother,” I said. “I was wondering what your thoughts were?”

“I am fine with it as long as you keep it trimmed,” Sandy said.

So, I didn’t shave that spring and haven’t shaved since.

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 “The Beard

    1. I think so, I never seemed to have the difficulties that most of the other young veterinarians experienced. Of course, I was older than most new graduates. Having served four years in the Army, I was thirty when I graduated.

      Liked by 2 people

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