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The long haul

Jake Geis for Progressive Cattle Published on 10 May 2021

If you haven’t heard by now, the Great Plains is a bit short on beef cattle veterinarians.

Somehow, we’re having trouble recruiting young folks to go $200,000 in debt for a job that pays less than half that, so they can have the privilege of being called in the middle of the night to work on cantankerous cows. And, for some reason, the ones who start in the business often leave it to work an eight-to-five job in the city. What an odd decision.

So, for the lucky few who still remain out on the prairie, it means we’re venturing a little further all the time. This spring presented me with one of those situations. I had put in about a half hour of shuteye when the phone rang. The producer had a cow with a uterine prolapse and needed a hand. The guy was super apologetic for calling that late, enough that I had to remind him not to feel bad about it unless he had, in fact, reached into the cow and turned her uterus inside-out for the heck of it.

The downside to the situation was he typically worked with one of my colleagues at a clinic a little way away from me, and he was on the edge of as far as that vet travelled. So, all together, it was going to be an hour-and-a-half drive for me to get there. I told him I was happy to come, but don’t bother setting a warm cup of coffee out on the counter for me.

I hopped in the pickup and commenced my journey. Luckily, I filled the tank that morning, so I wouldn’t waste a minute stopping for fuel along the way – I wanted back in bed as soon as possible. Being a Saturday night, our thin blue line was doing their job keeping drunks from behind the wheel. I minded my p’s and q’s as I passed through various small towns on my way to the producer’s place.

Upon my arrival to the farm, we put the cow in the chute and started with the prolapse. This heifer was one of those that seemed intent on sitting right on her behind like a dog, which makes replacing a uterine prolapse about as easy as giving your pal a piggy-back ride up Pikes Peak. We finally got her to lie down, so I could then stuff it all back in.

The producer was super cool and thanked me for the help. I told him I’d be glad to hang out again sometime under more appealing circumstances and then jumped back in the pickup to go home. Obviously, I was tired. Not falling-asleep-at-the-wheel tired, but that in-a-zone kind of tired. The kind of tired that makes a body a little flippant about coming to a complete stop at the sign on Main Street in one of those small South Dakota towns.

And, that’s when the lights flipped on behind me. I looked at the clock that read 1:57 a.m., realizing the bars were just closing and the county mountie must have figured I was a drunk. I slid over to the side of the road and rolled down the window. When the officer looked in to see a frazzle-haired cow doc that reeked of cow uterus, he didn’t bother with the warning ticket. He bid me on my way and reminded me of the time change. I watched the clock skip the 2 o’clock number to go straight to 3 a.m. Hello daylight saving, goodbye an hour of sleep.

I rolled into the house at 4 a.m. After a little shuteye, I went to Mass like always, then went home to settle in for a well-needed nap. Thirty minutes into it, the phone rang. Uterine prolapse. Now, why don’t these kids want to be veterinarians anymore?  end mark

PHOTO: Sometimes, being a cow vet means working late at night. But, when the drive is a bit long, it seems the intangibles make it stretch just a bit longer. Photo by Jake Geis.

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