(Dr. Compton, in the blue hoodie jacket, securing the west end of an east bound calf)
Among the most memorable experiences of my vet school career are those of our Large Animal Ambulatory rotation. There is no better way to bond with your classmates and clinicians than by piling up in the cab of an F-150 and riding around rural
smelling of cow manure. In addition to the experience in large animal medicine, this rotation taught those special life skills you can only learn in the field….how to improvise, think on your feet, rely on your colleagues, and most importantly, how to catch and restrain a 6 month old calf running rampant around a muddy paddock. Alabama
For most large animal calls, it is customary for farmers to have their cattle in a holding pen prior to the arrival of the veterinarian. To many farmers, this is a small gated area with a chute of some sort. To some farmers, however, a holding pen is nothing more than a half-acre paddock filled with mud and debris from old fencing material and farm equipment. To a junior veterinary student, this kind of holding pen means herding our patient around a slick, muddy obstacle course. It was exactly this kind of area that my classmates and I found ourselves in on one particular call. Facing this, we all filed out out of the truck, fresh in our coveralls and rubber boots and began chasing a lame calf around the paddock.
Twenty minutes later, we finally managed to herd the calf into a “chute” (I use that term loosely), and close it in with a gate. During this time, our clinician simply watched from the sidelines while the owner of the calf was strangely absent. A mere 40 seconds after entering the chute, the calf came flying out wearing the gate around his neck and shoulders. Not ready to let our patient escape, a couple of classmates and I grabbed the gate and held it steady in an effort to keep the calf within reach. Not successful. Our calf kicked free and continued his tour of the muddy paddock. It’s amazing how fast a lame calf can run. Our clinician, a seasoned large animal vet whose demeanor most closely resembles “Eeyore”, moved slowly from his position on the sidelines only to remind us “You’re not supposed to let him go, hold onto him while you’ve got him!”. Thanks. We hadn’t kept that in mind while being tossed around by a calf powered gate.
Thirty minutes later, our lame calf was claiming victory in pursuit of freedom. We had nowhere left to herd him now that we are minus a gate. Our shame and defeat was comical at this point, but we had a job to do and continue on. But then, out of nowhere, came our seasoned clinician and his rope. With all the energy of a cinderblock he gave the rope a few swings over his head and effortlessly tossed it in the direction of our calf. Moments later our patient was captured. Our group was certainly appreciative of his valiant effort, although we would have liked it sooner. We then began our next task: to restrain the beast. This involved a hobble, a firm grasp of his tail (my job), and about 3 of us to hold him once he was down. So that’s what we did, and only a few minutes later, his injured claw was inspected and cleaned and he was released back to the freedom of his muddy paddock. Nothing to it.
Forty minutes later, we finally got our truck (not 4-wheel drive) free from the mud pit it was trapped in with minimal damage to the surrounding structures. Then we were on our way, ready to see what was in store for our next large animal adventure. It sure is nice to be a small animal vet now, but even better not to be the lowly student anymore!
Here are some of my other favorite quotes from the large animal ambulatory rotation:
Large Animal Vet: “When I say run, you RUN!!!!!”
Classmate: “What do you say when we get back to school we all take a cattle prod?”
Classmate: “Why not?”