The breeder's cube dilemma


Rangy cowboy and 'snakey' cow take every ounce of doc's patience; give lesson in theriogenology

I can remember looking down and seeing "8:02" on the digital clock in the pickup as we pulled up to the ranch.

I use the term "ranch" loosely because this gentleman onlyhad 17 cows. We had a busy morning scheduled and with any luck, I wouldbe back to the clinic by 9 o'clock and start getting caught up. After all,how long can it take to palpate 17 cows for pregnancy? At some of the ranchesmy associate and I go to, we can palpate 750 to 800 head in a day.

Vintage experience

I had never met this fellow and was surprised to see that he was old.His voice on the phone sounded like each breath could have been his last.I watched him mosey out of the front door of the stucco house that had notbeen painted or repaired in any way for what looked like about 50 years.He must have been about 6 ft. 5 in. and weighed about 125 pounds. He wasso thin and wore such tight jeans that it looked as if his legs bent fouror five times before they connected with his feet. He was wearing one ofthose Western shirts with snaps for buttons and had a giant bandana tiedaround his neck. His boots were straight out of a grade B Western movie.They were so pointed that his toes just had to be setting one atop the otherin order to conform to the shape they were forced to comply with.

The only piece of attire that did not fit the Western motif was his hat.The hat looked like the one that the engineer from "Petticoat Junction"wore. It was made out of striped mattress ticking material and had beenworn so much that it had taken on a "lean" to the left side ofhis head.

Sizing up the situation

He never spoke a word as he approached, he just pointed over to a setof rundown sheds and a working pen about the size of a football field.

I put the pickup back in drive and headed over. He ambled across theyard at a snail's pace and began to talk long before I could hear what hewas saying.

I began to size up the situation. Seventeen cows of various sizes andshapes stood in the middle of a one-acre trap. In the center of the trapwas the oldest squeeze chute I had ever seen. There were no alleys leadingto the chute at all. It just sat alone like a centerpiece on a Thanksgivingtable. In fact, there was no fence in the entire trap, except the one thatmade up the perimeter.

It was obvious that he had coaxed the cattle in from a large pasturethat was out the south end of the trap. These cows did not look like theyhad been handled much. They were looking at me with wide nostrils and highheads.

Logistical nightmare

He was still mumbling as he approached, but I was not concerned withwhat he was saying. I was concentrating on the logistics of an 80-year-oldman and a 35-year-old veterinarian getting 17 snorty cows through a squeezechute with no alleys leading to it. I was beginning to think that this wasgoing to put me a little behind on the tidy schedule that the secretarybooked for this day.

When his ramblings finally penetrated the wall of thoughts I was contemplating,it became apparent that one of the cows might be a little dangerous. Hecalled the red one "a bit snakey." Having been around old cowboydudes all my life I knew what this meant LOOK OUT! He was not kidding, either.The rascal would leave the pack and charge anything that came into the pen.

Here is the situation. Me and pawpaw are going to carry 20 pipe panelsthat probably weigh about 300 pounds each from a barn 100 yards away toconstruct an alley leading to an antique chute, while ducking a "snakey"red cow. This guy took a full five minutes to walk across the yard. It wasbecoming clear that I was going to be more than a "little" behindwhen I got back to the clinic.

The red glowing letters on the dash of the pickup said "10:29"as I plopped in the seat for a drink of water. Just two and a half hourswas required to "throw up a few panels." My back was aching andmy patience totally gone.

The red cow liked the old man. It was me she wanted to charge. She wouldrun back and forth around him and he would never even change expressions.She must have blown two gallons of snot on me, and I must have kicked twotons of dirt on her. If those panels weighed 300 pounds apiece I was carrying285 pounds and he was carrying 15. But that was not the bad part becausehe walked so slow. I had to carry 285 pounds about five times longer thanI would have if I had pulled each one of them over by myself. Oh, but heinsisted on helping.

Reproductive conundrum

The clock in the pickup read "12:02" as I sat in the frontseat wondering why not one cow was pregnant. He had to "run" upto the house to get some paperwork while I wondered how I was going to salvagethe rest of the day. By now, most of the early appointments had probablyleft, and the later ones were pacing the floor and calling me names.

My right index finger had been mashed in the mechanical squeeze chute.You see, I would push the cattle up, catch the head, squeeze her, open thetailgate, put a pipe behind each one, palpate her, mark on her with a paintstick and finally let her go. His contribution to the entire process wasto give me a verbal history of every cow.

Lotta bull

When he finally returned I told him that since every cow was open, wereally needed to test his bull.

To this he replied, "What bull? I ain't got no bull. Hadn't hadone in over a year!!!"

I could feel my blood pressure going up. What in the world was this guythinking? All morning I spent palpating cows that he said should have beenhaving calves three months ago, only to find out he doesn't even have abull. I was about to explode with some "anger inspired" statements,when he interrupted me with a quote that I will never forget "I don'tneed no bull. Been feedin' them there breeder's cubes for about a year now."

Mind crossing

"Oh, my," was the recurring theme as I drove home. "Threedollars a head" crossed my mind a few times as I cruised along. That'sright. Fifty one bucks plus a small call fee was what I had to show formy morning's effort. It crossed my mind as we constructed the working pensthat none of them looked pregnant. It crossed my mind a few times that therewas no bull. It crossed my mind a few times that I should be getting a historywhile we worked. But it never crossed my mind that anyone would ever thinkthat "breeder's cubes" would make a cow pregnant.

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