The Land is Cheap There

 D. E. Larsen, DVM

When I pulled into the driveway, I could see Don waiting in the doorway of the little barn behind their house. He had one old Jersey cow when I called on him at his little place over on North River Drive. He had said he wanted his cows checked for pregnancy, so I figured he had more than one cow in this new place.

“This is a nice little place you have out here, Don,” I said as I got ready to check his cows.

“Yes, we enjoy it out here,” Don said. “But little is the keyword in your sentence. I only have four cows. I could probably run six if I bought more hay. But my pasture is pretty limited.”

“What do you do with your milk?” I asked.

“I suppose I should be careful telling you, but I jug it,” Don said. “Raw milk is pretty popular around here. I have people lined up at the milk house every evening.”

“I don’t know all the rules, I think there is a small farm exception, but raw milk sales on the retail level are illegal in Oregon,” I said. “When I was in Washington, I cared for a large raw milk dairy. There were a lot of rules and a lot of testing for them to keep their milk on shelves.”

“I don’t know why that is. Raw milk is probably better for you than the stuff you buy in the store,” Don said.

“That’s a discussion we won’t find common ground on, Don,” I said. “There are some arguments in favor of raw milk, but there is a whole list of diseases that can be transmitted by the stuff. Some of those are probably considered rare in a small, closed herd like you have here. But if they start selling raw milk in a big way, there will be problems. I say that even though I grew up on the stuff. The immune status of a farm kid is probably far stronger than in the little girl in town who seldom gets out of the house.”

“Well, let’s get these cows checked,” Don said. “I am selling them next week. We are going to sell this place and go to Iowa and buy a farm.”

“I will be sorry to see you go,” I said. “But what made you choose Iowa. It gets pretty darn cold there in the winter.”

“My wife is from Iowa,” Don said. “Land is a lot cheaper there.”

“I used to tell people that when I was in school in Colorado, we used to go up in the mountains so we could watch the riverboats on the Mississippi River,” I said as seriously as I could. “We could do that because there was nothing in-between. All the land is flat.”

Don was quiet for a few minutes. Deep in thought as he processed my statement.

“That must be a joke,” Don finally said. “I don’t think you could see that far.”

“It’s a joke, Don,” I said. “It is meant to illustrate that there is a lot of flat land between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River.”

“It might be flat, but it’s good land,” Don said. “And it is cheap. I can sell this little place and go back there and buy a hundred-and-sixty-acre farm. And I will probably have money left over to buy cows. That is what I am going to do. I am going to buy a little dairy instead of playing around with three or four cows.”

We went in the barn to check the cows.

“How far along are these cows?” I asked.

“I only had a bull for a month, so if they are pregnant, they will be about five months along,” Don said. “I really don’t need a close timing. The guy who is buying them just wants to make sure they are pregnant. I haven’t seen any of them in heat, so they have to be pregnant. He just wants your opinion on a piece of paper.”

“At five months, I can’t give you much more than an approximate month,” I said. “Before ninety days, I can get that down to plus or minus five days.”

I pulled on a plastic OB sleeve and checked the first cow. The fetus is often out of reach in the cow at three and four months of pregnancy, but I can usually feel the calf at five months. Size is pretty variable, however.

“This cow is pregnant, and five months is a good estimate. I can feel the head,” I said as I changed sleeves.

I worked through all the cows, changing sleeves between each cow. That was not something I usually didn’t do, but the numbers were small, and with Don selling raw milk, it was probably a better practice.

“Everybody is pregnant,” I said. “I think they are closely grouped. That bull must have had a busy few days.”

“He was a little Hereford bull,” Don said. “I like using a Hereford bull on these jerseys. They spit those calves out like nothing is happening.”

“I grew up on a Jersey dairy,” I said. “I never saw a calf pulled until I got to vet school. The shape of the Jersey pelvis makes them the easiest calving cow of them all.”

“Thanks for services over the years, Doc,” Don said as he shook my hand. “I might not see you again. These cows go next week, and the realtor says this place won’t take long to sell. I will probably buy cows in Iowa by next month.”

“Good luck, Don,” I said. “You probably want to buy some long johns and insulated coveralls, along with those cows.”


It was months later, in the middle of November, when I came in from a farm call, and Sandy handed me a note with a telephone number.

“Don called from Iowa,” Sandy said. “He sounded a little upset and wanted you to give him a call if you could.”

“Hello, Don,” I said as soon as Don answered the phone. “How are things going, and what can I do for you?”

“I guess I will never be smart enough to know how you can be so smart,” Don said. “I finally broke down and bought a pair of the insulated coveralls you told me about. It is so damn cold here. I don’t understand why anybody settled in this country in the first place.”

“They didn’t know to fix their wagon wheel when it broke,” I said. “So they were stuck and decided to make the best of it.”

“You might be right, Doc,” Don said. “The other morning, a cow pissed on the floor and plastered it everywhere. The damn stuff froze in no time, and I slipped on it and fell. I spilled a bucket of milk and thought I broke a hip at the same time. My hip is okay, but I am still crying over that bucket of spilled milk.”

“You be careful, Don,” I said. “You are starting to talk like me. You didn’t call to tell me stories. How can I help you?”

“Doc, I need help finding a veterinarian,” Don said. “The guy I had out here this week seems like a quack to me.”

“Don, I don’t know any veterinarians in Iowa,” I said. “You might call the vet school at Iowa State and ask them for a list of veterinarians in your area they could recommend. In fact, it might be better to try to talk with one of the large animal professors and ask him. He probably will remember all the ones he thought should be washed out of school.”

“This guy came out to pregnancy check a bunch of cows for me, and he didn’t even change sleeves between cows,” Don said.

“Don, in a large group of cows, that is common practice,” I said. “It is different with I checked your cows here. You only had a few cows.”

“Okay, maybe I was too rough on him,” Don said.

“If it is important to you, just ask him to do it,” I said. “I would guess he would not be bothered by the request. He might make you pay for the extra sleeves, but that is only fair.”

“Okay, I will do that,” Don said. “And I wish you had told me to come back here for a winter before I bought into this place.”

“Just wait, Don, it’s only November,” I said. “You have a long way to go before spring.”

Photo by Get Lost Mike 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.

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