D. E. Larsen, DVM
I was wet as I loaded my equipment back into my truck during a brief but heavy April shower. I had just finished pulling a calf in Crawfordsville, and now I had to hurry to the clinic before I was too far behind on my morning appointments.
Dr. Craig had warned me that the cattle practice in Linn County was sort of a feast or famine situation.
“You will be so busy in the spring and fall you can hardly keep up the pace,” Roy had said. “Then, in the summer and winter, you will think all your clients have deserted you.”
Roy had been spot-on with that bit of information. I was up a six this morning to get out for this calf, and I am sure the appointment book at the clinic is full for the day by now. Once I get behind schedule, nobody is happy. The clients are upset and complaining, and the girls behind the desk are helpless if I don’t keep pace.
I pushed a little harder on the gas pedal. By speeding, I would only gain a few minutes, but a few minutes might allow me to gain a step in the appointment book.
Dixie noticed when I pulled up in front of the clinic and came out to help me carry things in so we could clean everything up for the next call.
“We are in good shape,” Dixie said. “Anita was the only early appointment, and she had some shopping to do at Safeway. She left the dogs, and they are only due for vaccines. Judy and I have them all ready for you. The only problem is Judy is on the phone right now, and it sounds like another calving problem.”
Dixie and I were in the back cleaning up the calf puller and the other equipment when Judy came back and leaned against the wall.
“That was Darwin on the phone,” Judy said. “He has a cow having some problems calving. He doesn’t think it is too bad, but he would like you to look at her.”
“What is his account status?” I asked. Darwin was one of our chronic slow payers. He always called with an emergency when he was short of cash, and then he would take months to pay the bill.
“He has two outstanding bills,” Judy said. “The one is from almost four months ago. We have him marked to be turned over for collection when we do statements next week. I didn’t promise him anything. I told him when you had a few minutes, you would give him a call.”
“He is going to say he will have money next week,” I said.
“Any time we call him on the account, he is always going to send a check, but it never comes,” Judy said.
“That’s okay, let’s get Anita’s dogs done, and I will give him a call,” I said. “You might need to try to reserve a little time later in the morning in case I have to run out there.”
When we were caught up, I settled into my office chair to call Darwin. The phone rang four or five times before he answered.
“Good morning, Doc,” Darwin said. “Thanks for returning my call.”
“What do you have going on, Darwin?” I asked.
“I have this old cow with a couple of feet out for the last hour,” Darwin said. “I just thought if you had some time, you might be able to come by and help her out a little.”
“Darwin, are the soles of those feet pointed up or down?” I asked.
“I never thought about it, but I think they are pointed up,” Darwin said. “What does that mean?”
“That means they are the back feet,” I said. “That is a common cause of dystocia in an older cow. Most of the time, we need to pull those calves.”
“Can you come out and do that for me, Doc?” Darwin asked.
“Darwin, Judy tells me you have a couple of long past due bills,” I said.
“Yes, I know that, Doc,” Darwin said. “I can put a check in the mail to you in the morning.”
“Judy also tells me that your checks never seem to arrive when you put them in the mail,” I said.
“I know, Doc, but times are rough,” Darwin said.
“Yes, I know, times are rough,” I said. “But, Darwin, I have to make a living, plus I have to pay wages, keep my supply shelves stocked, and pay my monthly expenses. If I don’t do that, I am out of business, and you are back to waiting two or three days before an Albany veterinarian can get out here to help you out.”
“I’m telling you, Doc, I will put a check in the mail in the morning,” Darwin said.
I recalled a story Dr. Craig had told me at one of our dinner outings. At the time, I thought it was pretty severe, but I decided to use it with Darwin.
“Darwin, your check story might get the girls in the office off your back for a few days,” I said. “But it doesn’t work in this situation. I will come out and take care of your cow, but when I get there, if you are not standing out at the end of your driveway with four hundred dollar bills in your hand, I will drive right on by.”
“Doc, you are just like all those other vets. You are just after the money,” Darwin said.
“Don’t pull that crap, Darwin,” I said. “I already explained why I need to be paid. I am more than happy to provide you with veterinary services. But if you aren’t going to pay your bill, you can go find another veterinarian who can afford to work for free.”
“Okay, Doc, my wife has some money stashed for just this kind of a thing,” Darwin said. “You come ahead, and I will meet you at the driveway with the money.”
“I have a couple of things to do here, so I will be half an hour before I am at your place,” I said. “I will see you there. I trust that you have the cow caught.”
“She is in the pasture,” Darwin said. “But I can get her in before you get here.”
“Okay, you get her in, and you get your money, and then give me a buzz on the phone,” I said. “Once the vet arrives, those tame old cows get pretty wild if they are still in the pasture.”
It wasn’t long, and Dixie and I were on our way out to Darwin’s small farm.
“Do you think he is going to have the money?” Dixie asked. “And if he doesn’t, are you really going to drive on by?”
“I think that is a yes on both counts,” I said. “This guy probably has more money than I will ever have. These guys skip out on their bills either out of habit or they think they will earn a little more interest if they wait. We haven’t added a late charge to our billing, so it costs them little to wait until Judy sends them a collection notice. I think we will have to correct that in the near future.”
When we came around the corner to Darwin’s place, he was at the end of the driveway, and he waved a handful of bills.
“My wife put a little extra in there,” Darwin said as he handed me the money. “She thought we needed to carry a credit balance for a while.”
“Thank you, Darwin,” I said. “Where do you have the cow?”
“She is in a small pen in the barn,” Darwin said. “The barn is over the little hill from the house. It’s about a half mile from here.”
“Good, you will get some exercise today also,” I said with a smile. Darwin sort of frowned. “I was kidding. Go ahead and crowd in, and we will let you give directions.”
Darwin’s barn was an older one, and it had seen better days. The cow was chewing on a bit of hay. She was oblivious to her difficulty.
I tied her to a corner of the pen while Dixie was getting things out of the truck. I tied her tail out of the way with a length of twine tied around her neck. Then I lifted the bucket of warm water from Dixie over the fence.
After washing her up, I did a quick vaginal exam. Sticking a finger into the calf’s butt, there was a slight response.
“This calf is alive, Darwin,” I said. “But, I would guess she has been in labor for some time. Often, the cow will be slow to start labor with the calf is backward. Hopefully, this calf will be okay, but another hour or two and he will be dead.”
“How can you tell all that with your hand in her for a few seconds?” Darwin asked.
“I almost see with these fingers,” I said, holding up my left hand. “But in this case, I stuck a finger in this calf’s butt. He had a pretty weak response to that finger. A vigorous calf would pinch down hard on that finger.”
I hooked the calf puller up and started cranking the calf out.
“This won’t take long,” I said. “I have to be fast because this calf still has his head inside mamma when his umbilical cord is pinched during delivery.”
I cranked faster, the old cow had delivered many calves, and she stood the entire time. The calf came out in a flop and landed on the straw. I quickly picked him up by his hind feet and swung him a bit. A large amount of thick fluid drained from his nostrils. This fluid was probably more from his gut than his lungs, but it made me feel better to have it out of the way.
The calf shook his head when I laid him back on the straw.
“It looks like he will be okay,” I said as I squirted some iodine into his navel. “We have to run to get back to the clinic. We sort of worked you into the schedule. Dixie will leave you a dose of BoSe to give his guy under the skin. You will need to make sure he is up and nursing in an hour or two. If he isn’t, you need to milk this cow a little and give it to him in a bottle. Doing a little of that now might be a good idea.”
We loaded up and headed back to the clinic.
“Do you think his wife was a little embarrassed?” Dixie asked. “Otherwise, she wouldn’t have put extra money in the pot.”
“She probably wasn’t even aware of the situation with his account,” I said. “Hard to say, she maybe has been giving him money to pay the bill, and he spends it elsewhere. It will be interesting to see if things are different with his account in the future.”
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.