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It’s a cold, cruel world

Jake Geis for Progressive Cattle Published on 12 January 2021

That unrelenting tyrant has descended once again upon the Dakotas – Old Man Winter. His arrival heralds subzero weather, wind-blown drifts that envelope pickups and, worst of all, brutally chapped lips. Its only positive attribute is that for one season, we don’t have to dodge road construction.

Nevertheless, as essential workers, our lives roll on, despite storm or plague. For the folks that turned bulls out last May, this means calving will roll in, regardless of inclement conditions. Performing veterinary obstetrics in this weather adds to the challenge naturally presented by these circumstances.

Take cesarean sections, for example. In a normal C-section, I cut into the side of a cow to peer into the inner abyss where the calf lies in wait. In a Dakota winter, I cut into the side of a cow to be greeted by billowing clouds of steam, obscuring any view I hope to have of the interior. All I can say is thank goodness for heated haul-in facilities.

And, thanks to the low-pressure system brought with each blizzard, all the bad calving calls occur at the same time. A person can go a few days without pulling a single calf, then a norther’ rolls in and all at once, four calves are coming breach, one located at each corner of the county. Because luck will not allow them to be at neighboring farms; that would be too easy.

Replacing prolapses fares a little better. My modus operandi when fixing prolapses is to allow the umbilical tape and needle to soak in a bucket of water and disinfectant while I work. This way, both are ready for use immediately after the prolapse has been returned right-side out. But, when you reach into the bucket to retrieve these items and the umbilical tape freezes immediately when exposed to air, so firm that it remains sideways when turned 90 degrees, finishing the job is a bit more difficult.

Oddly enough, this season’s negatives do bring a few benefits. Previously unreachable barns blocked by muddy lanes can be accessed when “poor man’s concrete” sets in after an arctic blast. Albeit, the drive is a bit rough being jostled over several parallel ruts created through prior attempts to cross the mud bog, but we still get there just the same.

And, most people are very appreciative for help in these conditions. The best part of a difficult emergency call is when a farmer’s wife offers you a cup of hot coffee or cider at the end. I wrap my fingers around that mug featuring the owner’s seed corn of choice with glee, capturing every last drop of heat that seeps through its ceramic walls.

Maybe that’s the way we should look at all of winter, with that warm glass half full in our hands. Winter shows us the blessings we have of being together, of warm little homes and those times when things go right. It helps us appreciate the warmth of spring. And, besides, Mom always said it’s this weather that keeps the riffraff out. I’ll call that an even trade.  end mark

PHOTO: We can look at the glass half full or half empty. I only care that whatever is in that glass is warm and delicious. Photo by Jake Geis.

Jake Geis is a veterinarian and blogger in Freeman, South Dakota.