August 12, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.

Going west

By Jim Bennet | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Normally during the warmer months, I run to stay in shape. However, late last fall I developed a bad case of plantar fasciitis following a trail race, and since it has not fully healed, I cannot run. So, early this spring, I bought a new gravel bike. My gravel bike is light, comfortable and sure-footed. It is truly a joy to ride, and I love it. I was surprised to find another benefit: My brain floods with memories from my working past while biking area gravel roads. Here are some examples.

I rode west into the wind because I like to have the wind at my back on the way home when I might be tired. As I peddled by a certain green hillside, I recalled a cow with a stanchion on her neck out in that pasture. I was on my way to Herman’s place to see an ailing cow, but the cow with the stanchion caught my eye. I assumed she had broken out of a barn somewhere and carried the stanchion with her. 

Herman was very intelligent, but it always seemed he had trouble keeping all those ideas in his head. On that day, Herman wanted me to examine one of his big, beautiful registered Holsteins who stood near the far end of the barn. Going in, I knew this might be a problem because it was hard for Herman to get all the way down the barn without asking questions about problems of various other cows on the way. Of course, this is what happened, and we stopped part way down to look at the udder and teats of a cow.

Herman stood off to the side while I bent down and turned my head so I could see between the rear teats. Just as I got into position, I felt something on the left side of my head. It was not unpleasant and was warm and soft. It was only when I felt something in my ear that I became concerned and put my hand to my head. It was, of course, cow manure. She had scored a direct hit on the entire left side of my head. Herman, being a gentleman, did not laugh but seemed genuinely embarrassed. I ran into the milkhouse and stuck most of my head under the tap of the sink. Later, I asked Herman about the cow with the stanchion. He told me that some old timers used to leave a stanchion on a cow if the cow was prone to jumping fences. I asked him if he knew whose cow it was, but try as I might, I cannot remember what he told me that day.

Just down the road was Paul’s place. Paul was a hobby farmer. He called on a fall Sunday morning with a down cow. I got directions (no Google Maps back then) and drove out to find a steer, not a cow, stuck upside down in a water tank. It was one of those oblong tanks about 4 feet long and 2 feet wide. The steer was thrashing about but could not get himself extricated. I suggested Paul get some ropes and chains, which he did, and then we managed to extract the steer with the help of a loader on an old tractor. I did not administer any medications because the steer seemed to be fine and did not have any wounds. Some months later, when I called Paul about his unpaid bill, he told me he wasn’t going to pay it because I did not do anything more than he could have done. I don’t believe he ever did pay the bill.

A little farther west is the Kamen Farm. Mark and Tony were brothers and very good farmers.  They called in the middle of a cold winter night, perhaps 2 or 3 a.m., for a cow with calving difficulty. When I arrived, they were both sitting on a straw bale, propped against each other, sound asleep. I decided I would try to correct the presentation and deliver the calf quietly, leave my soiled sleeves on the floor next to them and then go home. I thought it would give us something to laugh about on my next visit. Unfortunately, while extracting the fetus, the cow let out an odd bellow that woke Tony up. When he moved, Mark’s head fell off his shoulder, which caused Mark to wake up too. My plan was foiled, but after cleaning up, I told them that I nearly got away without them knowing, and we still got that laugh.

After a couple of left turns and a few hills, I cycled by Don’s place. Don was one of our very first dairy clients. I started practicing with a classmate, Dr. Kevin Nigon, way back in 1981. For the first few weeks, we rode together on calls. The morning we went to Don’s, Kevin was driving his old, green Chevy truck with a full veterinary box on the chassis. I was riding shotgun. Our office manager was very familiar with many of the clients, and she advised us to be to Don’s on time. As things often go in ambulatory practice, however, we were not. As we turned the corner into the driveway, I saw Don. I am sure Kevin did too because he expertly piloted that green truck so that Don would be on my side of the truck. When we were slowing down into the parking area, Don started jogging alongside my window. He was shouting something and waving his finger right at me through the window. In some ways, he resembled a large, angry dog. I was in no rush to open the door, and when I finally did, I really got an earful. Punctuality was apparently important to Don. After our verbal lashing, Kevin and I attended to whatever it was that needed to be done, and Don was nice as pie. He became one of our most valued dairy clients. He was always respectful, complementary and, of course, ready when we arrived. I believe I was never late to Don’s again.

What are old cow vets, really, other than a sinewy bag of memories and broken-down body parts? My gravel bike allows me to pull recollections out of that old bag. Thanks to all of you for letting me put all those memories in there over the years. I have a lot more directions to cycle and am sure I will pull out more, but I do not believe I will ever know whose cow that was with the stanchion on her neck.

Bennett is one of four dairy veterinarians at Northern Valley Dairy Production Medicine Center in Plainview, Minnesota. He also consults on dairy farms in other states. He and his wife, Pam, have four children. Jim can be reached at [email protected] with comments or questions.


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