D. E. Larsen, DVM
Darrell was waiting at the gate when I pulled up. I hadn’t met Darrel before. When Darrell called, he told Sandy that he had just bought this place and it needed a lot of work, but he had bought a herd of cows to run on it.
“Hi, Doc,” Darrell said as I pulled through the gate. “You can just pull out over there to park.”
I got out of the truck and surveyed the landscape quickly. There was no house, no barn, no cross fences, nothing. I didn’t even see any cows.
“Hi, Darrell,” I said as I extended my hand. “This is nice looking pasture. The gals in the office said you had a cow with a sore foot.”
“Yes, she is carrying one of her front feet,” Darrell said. “I was hoping you could help me out with her.”
I looked around again. There was no sign of any cows. I probably couldn’t see the entire property, but I didn’t have a good feeling about how this call would turn out.
“How long have you been on this place, Darrell?” I asked.
“I just moved here from California last week,” Darrell said. “I bought this place when I came to town. I know it needs a lot of stuff done, but that is what I was looking for when I moved.”
“There are no buildings here,” I said. “Where are you living?”
“I’m at the motel for now,” Darrell said. “But I had a contractor out here yesterday. He has some house plans and thinks he can get things started right away.”
“You know, you have to make sure you have water and that you can get septic approval before you build a house,” I said.
“Well, the contractor never mentioned those things,” Darrell said. “But water shouldn’t be a problem. I have a creek over this rise, and it has plenty of water.”
“It is not safe to use surface water in the house these days,” I said. “And a lot of these little creeks are seasonal. They run full in the winter and spring, but they dry up when summer and fall come around.”
“Well, I will have to talk to the contractor about those things,” Darrell said. “Maybe we should go get a look at the cow with a problem. That’s what I called you for.”
“Where are your cows?” I asked.
“I am not sure. They move around a bit,” Darrell said. “They are probably over the rise and down by the creek.”
“And where is your corral?” I asked.
“I don’t have any of that stuff built yet,” Darrell said. “I plan to build a barn and a corral system up the hill from the house. But that will probably not happen until I get the house built.”
“What are you going to do with your cows next winter?” I asked.
“I haven’t given it much thought,” Darrell said. “Can’t they pretty much take care of themselves?”
“We will need to talk about the needs of your cows this winter after I look at this cow,” I said. “You want to get in my truck, and we can drive out there.”
“I would rather have you walk,” Darrell said. “I really don’t want to tear up the grass by driving out there.”
“You understand that my fees are based on time,” I said. “We are going to stroll out there where you figure the cows might be, and there is not going to be any way to get ahold of this cow once we get there.”
“These cows are tame,” Darrell said. “I can walk right up to them.”
“I can guarantee you that when they see a stranger coming, they will run off,” I said. “And walking up to a cow is a little different from lifting up a foot to look at it.”
“Doc, you’re not sounding like you want to look at this cow,” Darrell said.
“Darrell, I don’t know what your expectations are, but you have to have some way to catch a cow and handle her after you catch her. We could chase your cows around these twenty acres for several hours and never lay a hand on them.”
“What do you think I should do?” Darrell asked.
“I think you go down to the farm store and buy a portable corral system and set it up over there in the corner of the pasture,” I said. “Then, if you start feeding the cows in the corral, they will get used to going in there. Right now, you have put the cart before the horse. You have cows, but you have no infrastructure to care for them. By the middle of winter, you are going to have dead cows. And your neighbors will be reporting you to the sheriff.”
“You make things sound pretty bad,” Darrell said.
“Darrell, it is like anything else,” I said. “I understand your excitement with your change of life, but before you can make a massive change, you have to do the planning and have the infrastructure in place. Otherwise, you just end up with a big mess. And Darrell, that applies to almost any big change, not just cattle.”
“So, can you help me out with this cow?” Darrell asked.
“Get in the truck,” I said. “We will drive out there and at least eyeball her. I can get you some antibiotics to put in the feed or water.”
We drove over the rise, and there was Darrell’s herd. Five Angus cross cows, bedded down by the small creek, already running low for late spring.
As soon as the truck got close, the cows were up and headed for the far corner of the place. I could see the cow Darrell was concerned about. She was limping a bit but not bad.
“Okay, Darrell, I can give you some powdered antibiotic you can mix with a little grain and give to that cow once a day. If that doesn’t take care of the problem, then we will need to get her into a corral when we can get her looked at and examine that foot.”
“What are you thinking is wrong with her, Doc?” Darrell asked.
“I am guessing that she has foot rot,” I said. “If I am right, the antibiotics will take care of the problem. If it doesn’t get better, we need to look closer.”
We drove the truck back to the gate, and Darrell didn’t have anything to say the entire time. I got out and retrieved several packages of powdered antibiotics from the back of the truck.
“Give her a half of the package mixed with a little grain once a day,” I said. “If the other cows get some of it, it won’t hurt them, but it will reduce the dose the sore footed cow is getting.”
“What do you think I should be doing with this place, Doc?” Darrell finally asked.
“You have to slow down and make a plan,” I said. “If your contractor didn’t talk to you about a well and septic system, you need to get a few others out here to give you a bid. You either need to build some sort of a shed for these cows for winter or send the cows back to the sale. It doesn’t need to be a barn, but it needs to store some hay and give the cows protection from the rain and the cold. Then you need to get a well driller out here and get a good water supply. You get that done, then stop by the office, and I can discuss your plans for a barn and corral system with you. Then you can build your house.”
“You sound like you think I am way ahead of myself,” Darrell said.
“Darrell, I have just seen too many wrecks in the middle of winter where it is the cows that suffer,” I said. “To be frank, I see a Californian who probably sold out in California and has a pot of gold by Oregon standards. Many folks around here will help you spend it, and you just have to slow down enough to ensure those folks have your best interest at heart.”
“You think I should sell those cows, don’t you?” Darrell asked.
“Yes, I think you are not set up for cows right now,” I said. “Get your well drilled, your house and barn built, and get some fences and a corral built. Then get someone to help you pick out a good set of cows. Know the cow’s pregnancy status and have their winter feed in the barn. I can help you with things if you want. If you do all that, your life as an Oregon rancher or hobby farmer will be much better.”
“What should I do with this grass if I sell the cows?” Darrell asked.
“Stop in to the office, and I can hook you up with Sudi,” I said. “She will be happy to make hay for you. Probably for a fee if you want to keep the hay. And if you aren’t set up to keep it, she would take it, maybe even pay you a few dollars.”
“I guess I could probably just stack it here,” Darrell said.
“This is not Colorado or Eastern Oregon,” I said. “We get far too much rain to store hay outside.”
“Okay, I think what you say has some merit,” Darrell said. “I will give that cow some antibiotics and find somebody to help me take these cows back to the sale barn. I never even thought about their pregnancy status when I bought them. They probably took advantage of me there also.”
“If you talk with the sale barn, they can probably get someone to come to pick up the cows for you,” I said. “Just make sure you tell them they will need to have some panels with them because you don’t have a corral or holding pen.”
“Okay, Doc, I will get things going on the right track, and when I have things all planned out, I will come by your office and go over things with you,” Darrell said.
As things turned out, Darrell did okay. He was appreciative of my advice. That first contractor was hoping to take him to the cleaners, but he got that straightened out.
The following spring, his place was set up, and Darrell came up with a good herd of cows. And he remained an excellent client.
Photo by Andrew Hall on Unsplash.