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Musings of a cow doc

Jacob Geis for Progressive Cattleman Published on 19 November 2018
Jacob and Carolyn Geis at chute

They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. This phrase rings true in the ear of a rural veterinarian. For the masses who have rightfully adored James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, being a bovine doctor seems like a whimsical journey. It undoubtedly does, and equally does not, live up to the hype of the famous novel.

For your reading pleasure, I’ve been asked to provide a glimpse into this aspect of the beef industry. My name is Jake Geis, and I practice medicine in the great state of South Dakota. Although the majority of my time is devoted to beef cattle, I do a smattering of most everything else that cannot simply walk in and tell me what’s ailing them. From this, I draw my inspirations that I hope will be amusing for you.

Through my blog, people have expressed they lived vicariously through these stories. For sure, there is joy when bringing that calf back from the brink of death through fluid therapy. There’s adventure when a 2,000-pound bull escapes and trots down main street. But I can attest the grass is not as green on my side of the fence as it might seem.

For one, my patients scratch, kick and bite – a trait we vets share with pediatricians. Also, there is the darn inconvenient hours. Someone hasn’t yet figured out how to ensure a cow does not calve at 3 a.m. during a blizzard, but when he does, that guy will make a fortune. This doesn’t bother me so much as the “emergency non-emergencies.”

One example of this is the call that awakened my wife, back when she was in practice before she started working for the state. She answered the phone on that fall evening, expecting to hear there was a heifer with a prolapse or perhaps a dog that had been hit by a car. But alas, the situation that necessitated a call on the emergency line was instead a question on how long a person should ensile their oatlage prior to feeding it. My wife replied through her groggy haze that she didn’t know and would have to get back to him with that information tomorrow.

These types of situations can drag you down, and with enough of them, a cow doc can start thinking the grass is actually greener on the non-vet side of the fence. I’ll catch myself daydreaming about a warm desk job while processing calves in January or considering “losing” my phone inside a cow when it won’t stop ringing. If you have an emergency, talk to this rumen instead.

But then something will happen that reminds me I’m right where I need to be. Watching that wet little calf shake his head and try to stand while I’m sewing up his mom’s C-section is a real treat. I relish that “thank you” when through diligence and research we nail down the cause and solution to a herd health crisis. And few things are as enjoyable as that meal we eat over the noon-hour on the ranch during an all-day chute job, where the food is so darn good and there’s way more than enough to go around.

Yeah, being a cow doc is alright. And I feel privileged that through this blog, I can bring you along for the ride.  end mark

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

PHOTO: Jacob Geis and his better half, Carolyn, still work cattle together. She volunteered to preg-check this round. Photo provided by Jacob Geis.