© 2023 MJH Life Sciences™ and dvm360 | Veterinary News, Veterinarian Insights, Medicine, Pet Care. All rights reserved.
Finding the weak spot
Manly men were laid low watching a routine medical procedure.
There aren't many things left that surprise me. I'm not saying I've seen it all, but most things fit into categories, and few things catch me off guard. But a few days ago I did see something remarkable.
A cattle working is one of the last reminders of the old west. In many ways it's still done like it was a hundred years ago. A few modern conveniences have entered the formula — things like working alleys and squeeze chutes. A veterinarian's role in this well-orchestrated ritual is usually to palpate the cows for pregnancy. This entails putting on a plastic sleeve and running one's arm up the fanny to check for a calf in the womb.
Neighbors, day workers, and ranch hands round up the cattle, then run them through the chute to be vaccinated and for any other necessary procedures. The key phrase in that last sentence is "day worker." This is a person who goes from ranch to ranch and is paid on a per-day basis to help with the cattle working. These folks are quite a breed. They are about as rough and tough as anyone in the world and they've seen it all when it comes to cattle.
We go to many of these workings a year and each ranch has a different way of getting the same thing accomplished. It doesn't matter to me how we do things as long as I don't get smushed or run over. Usually a day worker runs the squeeze chute. These are the people I'm most interested in. If they don't catch the cow well enough, she'll back up and smash me against the gait. It has happened many times and often makes it hard to get out of bed the next morning.
On this particular day, two day-worker dudes were running the chute as is usually the case. They were moving a bit slow, perhaps from a touch of "over-indulgence" the night before. A few beers in the evening must soften some of the pain from a hard day in the saddle, but these two might have had more than a few.
The cowboys at the back of the line hollered "lumpy jaw," as the old Hereford cow entered the chute. This is a condition that causes an accumulation of pus around the bottom jaw area of a cow. It's pretty gross — the abscess may contain a pint of thick, greenish, smelly juice. My job is to lance the abscess and flush it out. I've done it a thousand times. It does stink a bit and sometimes the cow slings her head, spraying the pus all over everyone within 15 or 20 feet.
Well, that's what happened this time. I lanced the thing and so much pressure had built up in the abscess that the fluid spewed in all directions. It was just about then that I heard it. That deep, retching sound that you usually only hear when someone is face-first over a commode. It sounded like it was coming from all around me.
It seems that the two day-worker dudes had weak stomachs when it comes to lumpy jaw juice. That — coupled with the previous night's beers — led to a symphony of retching. But there was more.
The owner of the ranch was doubled over and making the noises too. I had lanced these things around him before and he had never missed a beat. Turns out, the only thing that makes him vomit is watching someone else vomit.
His noise was different from the day workers' though. He would retch a second and then laugh a second ... retch a second and then laugh a second. This, of course got me to laughing. Soon everyone around was laughing except the two day workers who were not finding anything funny about the entire situation.
I guess it just surprised me to see that day workers do get grossed out and that even the toughest of ranchers might have a weak spot. They were fine within a few minutes and we went right back to working cattle like nothing had ever happened.
Dr. Brock owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.