It was a cold winter night when the phone rang about 2 a.m. It was Rancher Bill. “Doc, I got a heifer calving, and she hasn’t made any progress. Can you take a look at her?”
“Sure!” I said. “Can you bring her in to the clinic?”
“Well, I don’t have her caught. If I had her caught, I would take care of it myself. I need you to come out and catch her — and since you’ll be here, I guess I’ll let you pull the calf.”
The obvious reverence (tongue firmly planted in cheek) Rancher Bill had for my veterinary skills made me jump at the opportunity to crawl out of my warm bed and head out to render assistance. It’s times like this that we have to remind ourselves that there is an animal that needs our assistance, regardless of how the client comes across.
I headed out and found the pasture that Rancher Bill described. It turned out to be a cornstalk field. The wind was blowing at least 40 miles an hour. As I pulled through the gate, I saw Rancher Bill’s headlights. As he pulled up, he said that she was lying about 200 yards away. “You’ll have to rope her,” he said.
“That’ll be a challenge in this wind,” I told him. He laughed.
We drove off and found her. Of course, she was black, so it was even more difficult to see her. She was lying down, clearly agitated and trying her best to push the calf out. I stayed away from her and stepped out of my pickup to get my rope. As soon as I got out of the pickup, my hat blew off and was gone. I got my rope and told Rancher Bill to go around and shine his lights on her.
My goal was to approach on the side opposite of Rancher Bill as he distracted her. It seemed to be working. Suddenly, she jumped up and started to run! I took off running into the wind, swinging my rope. I threw it as hard as I could. The rope left my hand, flew forward about 4 feet and then blew backward over my head. The heifer disappeared into a canyon. As I walked back to my pickup, Rancher Bill pulled up.
“I thought you were a little better cowboy than that.” Now I was clearly agitated. “Do you know her tag number?” I asked. Seeing that I was not in the mood for a ribbing, he quickly replied, “Two thirty eight.”
We both drove to the canyon lip and shone our lights down into the canyon. There were probably 60 black heifers down there, staying out of the wind. I also saw that this canyon was where Rancher Bill had piled up some broken-down bale rings and an old creep feeder.
I grabbed my rope and approached the group. Sneaking along, I spotted 238 and crept closer to her. When she was in range, I swung my rope and threw, catching her around the neck. There was nothing to tie to, so I just hung on and let her drag me.
Because I am a fairly large guy, they usually don’t drag me far. But she showed no signs of stopping. I didn’t want to hit a bale ring, so I let loose of the rope. The heifer escaped from the canyon to the cornstalks again.
We spent the next hour chasing her around, trying to drive on the tail of the rope to stop her; but as you can imagine, that didn’t work. So, I told Rancher Bill that we would have to try again tomorrow. Rancher Bill didn’t offer to get out of his pickup once.
The next morning, I loaded my horse, Rooster, and headed out to Rancher Bill’s. I rode ol’ Rooster right up to her and grabbed the rope, dallied, and then stopped her. I tied her to Rancher Bill’s pickup, and that is when he finally got out. He could hardly move.
“What happened to you?” I asked.
“Oh, I fell and broke three ribs the other day. Can’t do a thing.”
I got the calf extracted. Unfortunately, it was dead, but the heifer survived.
I tell this story for the benefit of producers and veterinarians alike. As we head into calving season, sleep will be short, as will tempers. Keep in mind that we may not always know the whole story of what is going on. Be careful out there. ❚❚
Sjeklocha is a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health. He can be reached at his personal email, firstname.lastname@example.org.