Buck and the Colt

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Buck was resting under the giant oak tree on the corner of his barnyard. He was chewing on the remains of the trimmings from the horses’ hooves that he had gathered yesterday when Dale, the farrier, had visited his farm. This was a perfect June morning with bright sunshine and a cooling breeze coming up the creek.

He looked up with a start when he heard his favorite truck in the distance. It would be visible coming down the road shortly. This was Doc’s truck, and it usually meant that there would be better treats that these old hooves. Buck started down to the barnyard. Doc’s truck was still not visible on the road, but he wanted to be there to meet him when he pulled into the yard. Buck had suspected that something was going to happen when Ellen had him bring in the calves this morning. He loved to herd his calves, even better than the cows because they would never challenge him. It was his job, and he lived for it.

Ellen came out of the house as Doc was pulling into the barnyard.

“I’m glad you could come on such short notice.” She said as she extended her hand to Doc. “Walker wanted the bull calves marked so they would be healed for sale in a couple of weeks. I’m sorry that he couldn’t be here today. Will you need any help from me?”

“I might need you to hold a tail or two, but I’m sure that Buck will herd them into the chute with no problem. There are only 3, so we should be done in a jiffy,” Doc said.

“That will be great. I wanted to be able to move the colt to the upper pasture today,” Ellen said.

“How are things going with the colt? He was sort of jumpy the last time I worked on him,” Doc asked.

“He is better, but I still have to keep a firm grip on him. He is almost more than I can handle at times,” Ellen said.

Doc had gathered his things and headed to the chute. It was a joy to work the chute with a dog like Buck. He was probably one of the best cow dogs around. It was sort of a shame that Ellen and Walker had such a small herd, Buck deserved better.

With the first bull calf in the chute, Doc grabbed the tail and bent it over his back to give a little nerve pinch for restraint and some pain control. Castration was a quick procedure on calves this size. He showed Ellen how he wanted the tail held, and she performed like a pro.

Doc grasped the scrotum and stretched it down, with one quick slice of the scalpel he removed the bottom third of the scrotum. Then grasping the ends of the two exposed testicles with a large Oschner forceps, he stretched them down until he could feel the cremaster muscles separate. He moved the forceps up to clamp across the cords at the scrotum, then retrieved the White’s emasculator from his bucket, and the testicles were quickly removed.

Doc looked at Ellen as he held the emasculator firmly. “Do you want these?” he asked as he held them up.

“No, are you kidding? You know Buck has been waiting for them all morning,” she replied.

Doc looked at Buck, he was fixated on the morsels he held. Doc threw them up in the air, and Buck followed their arc. They bounced once, and with one quick swoop, he caught them both and made a quick swallow.

Ellen released the tail and smiled. She enjoyed how Doc truly liked Buck. Doc applied fly spray to the tail switch and around the wound and on the back of the calf. Probably a little early for flies, but just insurance. The other two bulls went the same, and in no time, Doc was cleaning up and loading things back in the truck.

Buck knew the event was over. He loved the work, loved the treats, and enjoyed Doc when he was in his barnyard. He always had conflicted emotions when he went to town to see Doc.

As Doc pulled out of the barnyard, Buck went back to his resting spot under the oak tree. This was his spot, and he could survey the entire farm from this spot, and nobody would bother him here.

As soon as Doc left, Ellen headed to the barn. She had haltered the colt earlier and was anxious to get him up to the upper pasture and see him run in the open field. It had been a wet spring, and the pasture was finally dry enough to turn him out. The colt snorted as she opened the stall and led him toward the barnyard. She headed for the road; the upper pasture was about a quarter-mile up the road. She had some concern about how the colt would react to a car on the road. This time of the morning they should able to make the trip without any traffic.

Buck watched from his spot under the oak tree. He didn’t like this colt, it did not respond to him like the cows did. Buck decided that he better follow along. Ellen might need his help, he could at least bite a heel, if the colt required correction. Buck trotted to catch up and fell in line behind the young horse.

They made it to the gate of the upper pasture just in time. Ellen could see a pickup coming up the road at a pretty good speed. She hurried to open the gate but had some difficulty with the latch. The colt heard the truck also and turned his head to get a better view. He reared up a little, and Ellen took a better grip on the lead, taking a wrap around her hand.

Buck didn’t like this colt, there was no reason for him to be causing problems. If he didn’t settle down, he would bite him on the heel.

The gate finally swung open, the truck roared past them. The colt reared again, and Ellen used all her weight to control him.

Buck moved in and bit him on the heel, that should settle him down, he thought.

The colt jumped forward and lurched toward the open pasture with one motion. The lead that was wrapped around Ellen’s hand tightened and in an instant, two fingers separated from her hand and flew into the air.

She watched as her fingers tumbled in the air. Time seemed to stand still for the moment. She thought she could reach out and catch them, but she could not make herself move. She thought about life without two fingers. She thought about all the miracle things they do in surgery today, maybe they could be reattached. She watched as they began to fall. There was no pain, no blood, she just watched as they hit the ground and bounced.

Then there was a blur, it was Buck. He swooped in and caught both fingers with one motion, and they were gone with a quick swallow.

Ellen sank to the ground. Now the pain came and the blood. She held her injured hand tightly. “No, Buck! No!” she screamed. “Damn you, Buck! Damn you!”

Buck had never heard that tone of voice from Ellen. He turned and ran back to his barnyard as fast as he could go. Buck settled into his spot. He would wait here until Walker got home, he thought, as he aimless picked up a sliver of hoof trimming from the last time the colt the farrier visited the farm. Things would be okay again. He never liked that colt anyway.

A Stone for his Mantle

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Urinary stones in beef cattle in the Willamette Valley were uncommon, meaning that I would see a case once or maybe twice a year at the most. Often going several years between cases. I do not recall ever seeing more than one case on any one ranch.

With that in mind, I found it uncommon when Walt called with a little steer calf who was standing around twitching his tail and stomping his hind feet. Uncommon, in the fact that Walt would recognize that as enough of an issue to call me early. It demonstrated how some of these old farmers were so in touch with their animals that they knew when there was a serious problem.

Walt was a tall, thin man with a broad smile on his face most of the time. Thin does not mean that he was not strong. Thin and wiry, he was tough as nails, and could work most men into the ground. Walt had a team of draft horses, Belgiums, that he used every year to put up hay in the field that was next to the highway. I am sure that many people would observe him and fail to realize how rare the spectacle was today. I always enjoyed watching the horses work and would often take the back road so I could stop and watch for a time.

Today was a nice late spring day with mostly blue sky, but some heavy dark clouds. Walt was waiting when I and Ruth Slagoski pulled into his barnyard. Ruth was short with dark hair. She had worked for me for a couple of years and although not a farm girl she really enjoyed the farms we visited. Walt’s farm had offered a variety we didn’t often see, with draft horses, along with the cattle.

Walt greeted us with his beaming smile and an outstretched hand. His hand shake was firm and sincere. I knew these men judged the men they met by their hand shake, something I didn’t learn in school but I had learned long ago growing up around men who earned their living working with their hands.

“I have them in the back of the loafing shed. The little guy is really uncomfortable,” Walt said. Showing his obvious concern with a fading smile.

We walk into the shed and the black baldy mamma cow and her calf were standing on the back wall. The calf was twitching is tail constantly and stomping both hind feet as if to a rhythm. “Walt, this guy probably has a stone plugging up his urethra and he can’t pee,” I explained. “It is early yet and he is uncomfortable because of his distended bladder. In a little while, one of two things are going to happen, either his bladder breaks or his urethra breaks. When that happens, the pain goes away but the problem becomes much more difficult to fix. It is a very good thing that you called early.”

The calf was easy to catch and we tied his head and then ran the mamma cow outside. I was sure of my diagnosis but completed a quick exam. Temperature was normal and his chest was normal. I did a digital rectal exam and laid my finger tip on his pelvic urethra. It was pulsating constantly.

He was a small calf, I am not sure I had seen a stone in this young of a calf before. I took another rope and tied a loop in the middle of the bite of the rope. I slipped this loop over his neck with the knot laying between his front legs. Then both ends of the rope went up over his back, crossing in the middle of the back, then down his sides and out between his hind legs.  This was called a “flying W” and is a standard method to throw a cow, generally not used on a small calf but we were going to have to tie him down for surgery.

I grabbed the two ends of the rope and pulled, the calf stiffened and fell on his side. We rolled him up on his back, flexed his hind legs and tied each leg with the ropes in a manner that when he would kick, it would put more pressure on his back and add more restraint.

Once restrained, with me on my knees, I could palpate the length of his penis. Stones generally lodge at the point of the attachment of the retractor penis muscle in the sigmoid flexure of the penis. I grasped this portion of the penis with my left hand to stabilize it. With my  right hand I could easily palpate the stone.

“This is going to be easy,” I said to Walt. He was watching close. Most of these guys had not watched a calf thrown so easily before.

We clipped and prepped the site for surgery and Ruth opened the surgery pack while I put on gloves. This was barnyard surgery at its best. There was fresh straw down but the softness of the ground under my knees told me we were on top of a foot or more of straw and manure.

The surgery was brief, as I had promised. After clipping and prepping the area, I injected the area with Lidocaine for local anesthesia, grasped the penis to stabilize it, palpated the stone and made about a two inch incision over the stone. With a pair of forceps, I bluntly divided the tissues to expose the urethra with the bulge where the stone was located. Once this was exposed I elevated the penis and drove a scissors under the penis and out the other side to maintain the exposure, stabilize the urethra, and free up my left hand. I palpated the stone again, then carefully incised the urethra, feeling the grit of the stone as the scalpel pulled across it. With a forceps, I grabbed the stone and pulled it out of the urethra and placed it on the surgery pack. It was about the size of a pea, off white in color. I took a 22 inch, 8 French urinary catheter and ran it up the urethra toward the bladder. It was just long enough to reach the bladder. We relaxed as urine drained out of the catheter. I could imagine that the calf was feeling some relief at this point. When the urine stopped, I removed the catheter and then ran it the other direction to make sure the rest of the urethra was open.

Now we had some decisions to make, to close or not to close. We had the option of leaving the incisions open. I sort of favored this option because if there are more stones in the bladder they have the chance of passing out the incision. Barnyard surgery is not the best in the world, and closing the incision always gives a possibility of infection. And closing the urethra on such a small calf could lead to an even more narrow spot that could cause problems later. The only problem with leaving the incisions open was that urine would flow out of the incision for a week or so until there was enough healing to allow normal flow.

I was getting ready to discuss all of this with Walt when the calf kicked and got one hind leg free from the restraint. He kicked again and the surgery pack went flying. The decision was made by the calf. I grabbed the scissors, releasing the penis to return to normal position. Ruth started gathering instruments that were scattered through the straw.

Walt was crawling across the straw on his hands and knees, concentrating on one spot. He ran his hand across the straw a couple of times. The with a beaming smile raised his hand, he had found the stone.

“This is going on my mantle,” he said, still smiling. 

We let the calf up, sprayed for flies and explained the urine flow issue to Walt. Things turned out okay, and I will never know how Walt was able to keep track of that stone in all the commotion.

Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

Hallowed Ground

D. E. Larsen, DVM

We hurried across the cow bridge at the upper end of Uncle Dutch’s farm. We were in a hurry because we planned to hunt up to the Bartlett farm this afternoon. This would require us to cross Catching Creek one more time, and that crossing would have no bridge. Don Miller and I were in the fall of our 8th-grade year. Living on neighboring farms, we hunted ducks and anything else along the creek as often as we could.

Don was a little smaller than I, but we were both stout young men and growing as we hurried along. I had on pair of hand-me-down hip boots. Don was in tennis shoes. That meant that I would have to carry Don across the creek piggyback.

As we rushed across the field toward the ford to Bartlett’s lower ground, a ruffed grouse sprang from the creek bank. We generally collected several wood ducks on these evening hunts. Occasionally, we would run into a flock of mallards. If we were lucky, a China rooster would cross our path. But this grouse was an unexpected surprise, and I didn’t miss.

We had been hunting the creek for a couple of seasons now, and we were crack shots with our shotguns. We knew every riffle in the stream, and we knew where we could expect ducks. Most of the time, we didn’t have enough time to get this far up the creek. We would have to hurry to get back to our fields to shot ducks as they came back down the creek heading to roost in the swamp near town.

When we came to the ford, I pulled up my boots, and Don jumped on my back. With Don holding both shotguns, we crossed the creek with no problems. We had worried about this ford when we were planning to hunt higher in the creek. We hunted along the creek in Bartlett’s lower field, jumping a group of mallards. Don and I both added a large mallard drake to our bag. This was a great addition to our normal hunt.

As we headed back down the creek, I stumbled while carrying Don across the ford. We came close to ending up in the water. I did recover my balance and ran the last few steps to the far bank. We sat and rested and laughed at the near disaster. We knew it would have made the trip down the creek a chilly walk.

We had about a mile to go. We didn’t need to follow the creek going down. We had jumped all the ducks on the way up the creek. We just wanted to get to our field at the base of the Cowhorn (our field was named for its shape. The Cowhorn on our side of the creek, and Horseshoe Bend on Uncle Dutch’s side). The ducks flying down the creek in the evening would cross this field every evening. We seldom hit a duck in the field. They were high and flying fast, but it gave us a lot of fun shooting, and just maybe we would get one.

As we reached the field, we had to follow the creek a short distance to reach our shooting area. We both stopped at the same time. There were riffles, many of them, in a quiet area of the creek. This had to mean a whole flock of ducks. We spread apart, crouched a little, and snuck along the creek bank. Expecting to see the sky fill with ducks, we burst into an open grassy area of the bank, guns at the ready.

There were no ducks. A cow was floundering in the water. She seemed unable to recover her footing and was struggling to keep her head above water. I laid my shotgun and game bag down, pulled up my boots, and entered the creek to hold her head.

“Don, run over to Lundy’s and call Dad,” I shouted to Don.

He dropped his gear and took off like a shot. 

The cow settled down a little with me holding her head.  It was going to be 20 or maybe 30 minutes before anybody got here. I was glad I had my hip boots.

The first to arrive was Vern Lundy and Don. They drove in Vern’s old pickup. Dad was on his way with the tractor, an old Ferguson, a small but function tractor. Next to arrive was Uncle Dutch and Grandpa. They stopped and tended the gate while Dad drove the tractor through the gate and up to the creek bank.

Dad came into the water with me, standing on the other side of the cows head. He had a large cotton tow-rope.

“We are going to tie this around her neck and pull her out with the tractor,” he said.

“Won’t that break her neck?” I asked.

“Not if we do it right, now you watch. We are going to tie a bowline with the knot placed under her chin. The rope will be tight against the back of her head,” he said as demonstrated the knot and the placement of the rope. 

When he was done, he looked at me and said, “Savvy?”

“Savvy!” I replied

“Now you do it,” he said as he undid his knot and handed me the rope.

With little problem, I wrapped the rope and around her neck, pulled it tight against the back of her head and ears, and tied a bowline that fit under her chin.

“Good,” Dad said, “Now hold her head until I start pulling her, then you move out of the way so your not in the bite of the rope in case it breaks or something.”

With the rope secured to the tractor, Dad started pulling the cow, I moved away, and the tractor pulled to cow up the grassy bank and up to a level spot in the field. The men were quick to untie her and help position her half sitting up. I waded to shore, still thankful that I was dry. 

“The vet is on his way, he should be here before too long,” Grandpa said.

“I have to get heading for home, or it will be dark by the time I get there,” Don said as he picked up his shotgun and ducks.

I watched as Don started across the Cowhorn, headed for Felcher Lane, that would lead him to his house. We both knew that we hunted and fished on hallowed ground. Less than 20 years before, this same ground, was hunted and fished by Phil Bartlett, who was lost when he crashed his fighter plane into a mountain on a night mission in the Pacific. Stan Felcher also covered this same ground, he died in the Batan Death March. Bayoneted by a Japanese soldier while on a detail to gather firewood. Bob Lundy was decorated for his service on a flight crew in the Pacific, and my Uncle Ernie was a bomber pilot. I had several cousins who fought in Korea, a couple of them in the thick of things. 

What we did not know was that Don had but 7 years left to live. He would be killed by a 50 caliber round in a friendly fire misadventure in Vietnam. I received that news in a letter from Mom while I was serving in Korea. This was, indeed, hallowed ground. A tremendous sacrifice of young men from such a small area of close-knit farm families.

Dr. Haug, the veterinarian, arrived shortly. He did a quick exam and started an IV. He was in a hurry; he probably had dinner waiting. When Dad asked him what he thought about the cow being in the creek, he was pretty brief. “The creek just got in her way as she was going down, this cow has milk fever,” he said.

Dr. Haug finished the second bottle and put his stuff away. Slapping the cow on her back, she was quick to right herself and get to her feet. Everybody was relieved.

“It probably would be a good idea to put her in the barn tonight, that will help her warm-up. It is unlikely that she will go down again, but if she does, there won’t be any duck hunters to find her tonight,” Dr. Haug said, glancing at me with a smile.

Dad and Uncle Dutch started the cow toward the barn, I knew I would be expected to finish the job. I picked up my shotgun and game bag, and as I passed Dr. Haug, I asked, “Which do you want, the mallard drake or the ruffed grouse.”

He was quick to take the grouse, smiled, and said, “Thanks,” as he got into his truck and headed to the gate. I hurried to catch up to the cow.

Epilogue

This story speaks to the tremendous sacrifice suffered from a small group of farm families living along the banks of Catching Creek, a small tributary to the Coquille River.

I grew up in Oregon’s Coquille River Valley in the 1940s and 1950s. After a stretch in the US Army from 1965 to 1969, I returned to school and graduated from Colorado State University School of Veterinary Medicine in 1975. I practiced in the foothills of the Oregon Cascade Mountains for 40 years.

The loss of my close childhood friend, Don Miller, was the driving force for my return to school following my tour in the US Army.

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