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The dog days of summer

Jake Geis for Progressive Cattle Published on 25 July 2022

They call them the dog days of summer. I always figured it was because a person felt like lying in the shade all day and barking at folks that bothered him, like an old cow dog. National Geographic tells me it has something to do with the Dog Star the Romans would see in July. I didn’t realize it was so hot there that even the stars want to lie around all day too.

But alas, those pesky cattle still have the audacity to have problems when the mercury breaks the top of the thermometer. How selfish. So, despite the blazing sun and the humidity, out the door a veterinarian goes to mend the broken bovines.

The trademark emergency of summer is the late-calving cow obstetrics (OB). In the western Corn Belt, this animal should’ve calved before going out to grass. Not saying the warning signs weren’t present, as the veterinarian told the farmer she’d be late. But, since she always raises such as nice calf, he kept her anyway.

It’s a different game doing OBs late in calving season. Early-season OBs are usually in heifers, come out the side and are born alive. Late-season ones are the exact opposite. With hay to cut, fences to fix and kids ball games to attend, the notion is that last old cow that hasn’t calved should have it on her own. Until she doesn’t.

There’s something uniquely unsettling about sticking your arm in a cow whose body temperature matches the air temperature. That warm, moist environment that matches a humid, sunny day makes all the sweat pouring from your body add to the discomfort rather than relieve it. Then that cow bears down on your arm, pushing all the sweat contained in your OB sleeve back toward you. Did I forget to add a trigger warning at the top of the page for those with weak stomachs? My bad.

Often, a veterinarian finds the calf breach or with both legs back. If the calf isn’t alive, the difficulty of moving this non-viable mass increases. Sometimes the process involves a fetotomy. Rather than describe that process, I’ll let you do an internet search. Just don’t look for it at the dinner table.

Let’s face it – veterinary medicine has a lot of gross in it. And gross gets worse in hot weather. But, with processing cattle, there’s ways to avoid some of the extreme conditions. If guys need cattle worked in June, July or August, I always offer to start at 5 a.m. That way, we can beat the heat and get it done before it gets totally miserable out. I’ve never had any takers, but it’s moved some folks from doing the work at 1 p.m. to 9 a.m., which I’d call a victory.

And with a victory, I’d like to wrap up my thoughts on summer. It’s when veterinarians (mostly) get a break. A time to recover from the pandemonium of spring and rest before ultrasounding and calf work take off in the early fall. So, if you’re looking for me, try that shade tree behind the barn. I’ll be there lying next to the dog. If you bring a cold glass of lemonade, we might not bark at you.  end mark

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

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