The Powers That Be

 D. E. Larsen, DVM

I always hated looking at a group of cattle for someone I did not know. They often wanted you to look over the fence and give them a diagnosis rather than running them through a chute for an individual diagnosis.

Just looking over the fence for the diagnosis was risky in the best situations. But with herds that I worked with on a regular basis, I would occasionally provide that service for simple things.

I mulled over the situation as I was driving to a herd of heifers that had recently arrived from Montana, and one heifer had aborted. The possibilities were endless, all the way from travel stress and trauma to infectious disease.

I was relieved when I pulled up to the corral, and there was a heifer in the chute.

George met me when I stepped out of the truck. We shook hands. I had heard of George, but this was our first meeting. He was professional, with a practice in Eugene. He had a small ranch here in Brownsville and ran a small herd of cattle, probably as an investment. More for land speculation than making money from cattle. But most of these guys had all the answers before they asked the questions.

“This truckload of heifers came in last night from Montana,” George said. “This heifer aborted during the night. I just thought we should do some diagnostics on her. I mean, I don’t want something that will go through the entire bunch.”

“What do you know about the place they came from?” I asked.

“I guess I don’t know much,” George said. “The whole deal was done over the phone. I do know a guy who knows the guy who owned the heifers.”

I glanced at the heifer in the chute. She had ear tags, like the rest of the group, and she had a brucellosis tag. She also had membranes hanging from her vulva.

“Let me look at their health certificate,” I said.

“We didn’t do a health certificate,” George said. “The guy said he ships cattle into Oregon all the time without a certificate.”

“Do you have a brand inspection?” I asked.

“No brand inspection either,” George said.

“George, how do you know these heifers were not rustled?” I asked.

George was quiet after that question. I don’t think the possibility had entered his mind.

“The guy sounded honest, and he has a ranch,” George said.

“You might want to think about the ownership thing,” I said. “I am sure that Montana considers a brand inspection a big deal. Here in the valley, it is a pain in the butt because we don’t have any range animals. I am not sure what Oregon will say about no health certificate and no permit.”

“The state shouldn’t know anything about it,” George said.

“If you want some testing done, I will send samples to Oregon State Diagnostic Lab,” I said. “Several abortion diseases are reportable. Once I send the samples, it is completely out of my control. I will probably be a little at risk if I don’t quarantine this entire group. But if you can assure me they are not going anywhere, I will wait until we get lab results.”

“I would be pissed at a quarantine,” George said.

“Then you should be following the rules,” I said. “If you just received the shipment, you are probably not at fault. The shipper would be the one in violation.”

“Would they do anything with the cattle?” George asked.

“They should, but I doubt they would do anything,” I said. “The state veterinarian doesn’t have any police powers. So if it was considered a problem, he would have to go through the sheriff. I doubt that would happen unless there was a major outbreak. The rules are set up to protect all the producers in the area. If someone imports a disease into the area, everyone here could suffer. If it was bad enough, the entire state could suffer.”

“It sounds like some significant liability could be involved,” George said. 

“With the travel history and stress involved, this abortion is probably just the luck of the draw,” I said. “Let me get some samples, and I will get them sent to the lab, and we will worry about things when we have something to worry about.”

I did a clinical exam of the heifer and collected blood and urine samples. I also removed some of the membranes from the uterus and collected a sample of histopath exam.

“Do you want all her tag numbers?” George asked.

“No, I will just use her bangle tag,” I said. “She is too young to be eligible for a brucellosis test, so I don’t need that number.”

“When will you have results?” George asked.

“I will have a currier pick up these samples when I get back to the office,” I said. “We could have some blood and urine results by late afternoon. The histopath on the placenta will take several days. To be honest with you, we seldom end up with a diagnosis on most abortions like this.”

“So, I will just wait for your call,” George said. “Do I need to do anything with this heifer?”

“I am going to give her some long-acting antibiotics and put a couple of boluses into her uterus,” I said. “Other than that, I don’t think you need to do anything with her.”

Once I got back to the clinic, it didn’t take long to package the samples and send them to the lab.

It was about four-thirty when Dr. Johns, the pathologist, called. Dr. Johns was new to the lab and fresh out of school.

“I ran the serology you requested on that heifer from Montana,” Dr. Johns said. Everything was negative, so I went ahead and ran a brucellosis titer. I showed a pretty strong positive.”

“That heifer was too young to be test eligible,” I said.

“Well, with this high titer, I have already contacted the state veterinarian,” Dr. Johns said. “It will be a few days before I get to the histopath.”


I had just hung up the phone after talking with Dr. Johns about the histopath results on the placenta. He had found nothing. So the diagnosis was negative except for the brucellosis titer.

Sandy brought Dr. Wilson back to talk with me. He was the field veterinarian from the state veterinarian’s office.

“I just finished looking at that heifer that aborted out in Brownsville,” Dr. Wilson said. “Why didn’t you submit the brucellosis tag and tattoo information on the test sheet?” 

“That heifer was not test eligible,” I said. “Dr. Johns did that test without a request from me. I send all my brucellosis tests to your lab in Salem.”

“Well, it turns out that the heifer was vaccinated late, she was over a year of age at vaccination, and she is still under two years of age, so she was not test eligible,” Dr. Wilson said. “That test should have never been done.”

“I sort of think that pretty much matches what I just said,” I said. 

“That is a serious oversight on your part,” Dr. Wilson said.

“Now, just a damn minute here,” I said. “I spent four years in the Army and watched how the powers that be found the easiest underling to punish for any problem that developed. Let’s review this situation. A truckload of heifers come from Montana without a health certificate and without a brand inspection certificate. I send some blood samples to the lab on a heifer who is not eligible for a brucellosis test. Still, the lab runs a brucellosis test without my request. Then you come in here and chew my ass.”

Dr. Wilson was silent for a couple of minutes. I waited for his response.

“I see your point,” Dr. Wilson said finally. “I guess your actions were not out of line.”

“I guess when a client calls and asks about a health certificate, I should tell him not to worry about it because the state office doesn’t worry about it,” I said.

“Now that’s not the case,” Dr. Wilson said.

“My point is, if you are not going enforce your rules, throw your damn book in the trash,” I said. “This BS of putting everyone through the trouble and expense of following your rules and then just shrugging your shoulders when someone ignores them is a bunch of crap.”

“What would you have me do?” Dr. Wilson asked.

“I not asking you to do anything,” I said. “l especially don’t want you to do anything to my client. He was almost a bystander. But the guy in Montana should be looked at a bit. I guess I’m just asking you to put down your coffee cup and do your damn job.”

Dr. Wilson left, I think, in a bit of a huff. Public employees always think they are overworked. But I am sure his phone hasn’t rang at three in the morning anytime in the recent past.

Photo by Sinitta Leunen on Pexels.

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.

One thought on “The Powers That Be

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: