Blood red, pasty white and screaming the blues
By Bill Stork, DVM
As the sun began to sink into the western haze early in the evening of our nation’s 220th birthday, Butch called. He had a cow that was having trouble, "out back."
For those more confined to the concrete, there is a rule with regard to cows on pasture. You could plant one rosebush on one end of a hundred-acre pasture and put a cow on the other. When it came time to calve, she would seek the prickly bush, back into it, and commence labor.
My powder blue half-ton Chevy work truck growled and lurched up the rutted, winding dirt road. I pulled her into granny low and set the brake on the closest thing I could find to a flat spot, crossing my fingers the transmission would hold her there. Long since having grown over, there once was a 6x8 gateway through the white pines at the clinic, a testament as to the security of the parking brake.
With no sign of Butch, and the grass armpit-high, I climbed onto the roof of my truck to find the one rose bush the cow was assuredly trying to calve into. A hundred yards in the distance, I saw my patient. Setting my bucket, rope, meds and calving tool next to the three-wire electric fence, I rolled underneath, situated my gear and hiked over to her.
True to form, there she lay – head uphill, with her birthing parts nestled into the base of a twelve-foot tall, multi-flower rose bush. Gifted to Wisconsin Dairy farmers by the Department of Agriculture to be used as line fences 75 years ago, words to describe my counter proposal are not suited for family publications.
Thankful once again that my dad worked construction, and I was familiar by association with the use of levers and elevation, with a 3/4 inch rope halter, a nearby scrub oak and a modicum of youthful gumba, I was able to pull her onto her side and pivot her downhill, rendering her free from the bush.
With only two of the calf’s feet showing and pointed down, I stripped to the waist, gloved up and lay on my stomach, reaching for a head or tail. I found neither. Eventually, I located an eye socket and a nostril, and was able to palm the calf’s head like a bowling ball, sweeping it into alignment between the two front feet. Once in position, with the assistance of a pair of chains and a few pulls, a star was born.
As expected, mom showed no attempt at trying to rise. I reached for my bucket and used what was left of the evening's light to set a 14-gauge needle in her right jugular. Crisis averted.
Coveralls rolled to my waist, I stood shimmering with blood, sweat and fetal fluid, admiring my handiwork and God's creations. As the medicine ran slowly into her vein and the newborn calf scrambled to stand and nurse, the sky flashed with the Waterloo Volunteer Firemen’s epic fireworks display.
Science has yet to determine whether ethnicity, diet, or body chemistry renders some more attractive to the mosquito than others. Let the record show that a properly marinated Eastern European flatlander, at sunset on top of a hill, is prime.
A gentle summer breeze from the west had apparently dispersed my essence. Before the medicine could drain into the cow's vein, every mosquito in Jefferson County was en route. Dancing, swatting and cussing at the onslaught, had I suffered a grand mal epileptic seizure it would have been more elegant. There are moments when it is every man and beast for themselves. That time was nigh.
Quickly making a sign of the cross in the cow's general direction, I slung the rope halter over my left shoulder and the calf jack over my right. For the first 25 meters, Usain Bolt would have been no match for me, as I high-stepped through the meadow, Lacrosse rubber overshoes for racing flats. As the truck came into view, a healthy half of Wisconsin's State Birds had made off into the night with my red blood cells. I became weak.
I heaved my tools under and dove through the wires of the fence. With bucket and box in the passenger side, I jumped under the steering wheel and reached to roll up the window, all the while screaming like a Jack Nicholson nightmare.
Lesson learned. From July 5, 1996 to present, from Easter to Thanksgiving the truck doesn't roll without at least a quart of 40% DEET under each seat, and in every door pocket.