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Vettin’ when it’s cold

Jacob Geis for Progressive Cattleman Published on 12 March 2019
dog in pickup cab

Thanks to our Creator and the tilt of the Earth, winter is just starting to think about leaving us here on the Northern Plains. When summer finally comes, we can look back on the memories of this time and reminisce, with the warm breeze on our face while sipping a cool iced tea. Unsweetened, of course, because if you want sugar in your drink this far north, you have to order a pop.

On the topic of memories, this winter produced some doozies that will most certainly enter the “when I was your age” repertoire to bestow upon future generations of young Dakota cowboys. The cold snap in the last week of January will definitely be retold. With air temps of -25ºF and wind chills that would make a snowman shiver, trying to do basic vet work required careful planning. Otherwise, your medications freeze solid, making them as useful as chopsticks at a soup supper.

When I woke up that frigid morning, I was hoping that it would be cold enough to freeze diseases right in their tracks. Alas, calves still got sick, and there was a cow with a retained placenta. I threw on more layers than an onion and headed for the pickup.

Turning the key, the starter gave a valiant effort to fire up the beast. Never before have I heard a 2013 model pickup start like a 1955 model 3020. It slowly fought itself to life with a chug-chug-chug-chug-chug-chugged-chugged-chugged-woam-woam-waaaaa! I had the feeling if pickups had hands, mine would’ve extended a single finger during its wake-up call. I let it warm up for a while; then out to the farm we went.

I started with the sick calf. It was in a hotbox, which made me envy him. However, I didn’t envy his pneumonia, so I went back to the pickup for an antibiotic. There I found that putting a needle on a syringe while wearing mittens was a new challenge vet school hadn’t prepared me for.

Next came the cow that needed to be flushed. I started to fill my bucket with warm water from the pickup. Anything that splashed instantly froze. I also filled my enema bag with water for flushing.

We hurried to the cow, holding the bag next to my chest. I washed the cow, and then slipped the hose inside her. In the 30 yards we travelled, the water in the line had frozen. I worked the line back and forth with my hand outside the cow, and the water began to trickle through the line. Inside the cow, I could feel my water that had left the vetbox at 80 degrees was now the same temperature I prefer my iced tea. I felt bad for that cow, because it had to feel like someone infused her with a popsicle. I finished the flush, gave her a shot and left her in the warm barn.

When the day ended, I headed back for the house. At home, my wife was taking no chances with the weather. The thermostat was cranked up to the max, and space heaters were a feature of each room. It was warm enough in that house to feel inviting for Satan. So, on the coldest night of my life, I woke up at 4 a.m. sweating from heat exhaustion.

I suppose 50 years from now, I’ll be retelling this story to a bunch of wide-eyed, unbelieving whippersnappers. They’ll just shake their heads and consider it a fairy tale. And I’ll just laugh, because when South Dakota gets that cold again in January of 2059, they can go out and do chores. I’ll stay inside wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, next to my wife’s five space heaters.  end mark

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

PHOTO: I don’t always let my dog ride in the pickup, but when I do, it’s because South Dakota decided to move north of the Arctic Circle. Photo by Jacob Geis.