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Stampede - School of hard knocks


Her head went down, and snot started flying.

Stop and think about it for a moment: How big is a 1,500-pound cow? Oh, it's about as large as the entire offensive line for the Dallas Cowboys. It weighs as much as half a car or about five refrigerators. That's a lot of mass to be driven by such a small brain.

Discovering the force of such an animal is almost a right of passage; all budding veterinarians must be reminded how much a cow weighs. No matter how strong you think you are, you are not stronger than a 1,500-pound cow.

This particular veterinary student had been looking forward to the ranch trip for days. When he found out we were going to spend an entire day at a ranch palpating cattle, he was on cloud nine. Judging by his enthusiasm, I guessed he had very little experience with it. The forecast called for a high of around 105 degrees with little to no wind. So, we would be sticking our arms up the fannies of 700 to 800 cows in the bottom of a 105-degree canyon with no breeze for about 12 hours.

We had been at if for about five hours. The air was filled with dust that became intensely plastered to the continuous supply of sweat dripping from each of us. It was almost like dipping catfish in eggs and milk just before rolling it in cornmeal. My job was to palpate the cows for pregnancy and sort the open ones from the bred ones. Macho veterinary student was helping with the vaccinations and occasionally palpating.

He was doing well, a big muscled-up fellow. I'm guessing he could bench press about 300 pounds. This might have given him a false sense of security, I would later conclude.

Midway through our day, the one-eyed cow came barreling into the chute slinging snot and high kicking with both back feet. I just love this kind of cow — they can only see what is happening on one side, so they are on a constant hunt for something sneaking up on them from the other side.

All the cows at this particular ranch are a bit snakey, but this one-eyed one was too much. You learn to get in and out of these wild ones in a hurry. I palpated her, and thank goodness she was open. The cowboy hollered, "Open," and the student ran to the end of the alley to open the gate into the cull pen.

He just kinda stood there as she went by him on her blind side. As she made the turn, he must have come into view of her good eye because she turned into a 1,500-pound veterinary student magnet. Her head went down, and snot started flying. After you have seen a few cows go into the "I am going to pulverize you" dance, climbing the nearest fence quickly becomes an involuntary response.

I guess my student had not seen that particular dance before because he made no attempt to scramble. He just kinda stood there and watched her heading straight for him. I'm not sure, but I think he figured she would stop and run away before she reached him. He was wrong! She started slinging him around like a rag doll.

I could see the thoughts running through his mind as she got her head under his fanny and pitched him effortlessly into the air. I could almost see the dialogue bubbles like a cartoon: "Bench pressing 300 pounds is meaningless right now ... I wish I didn't wear my pants so tight ... One-eyed cows are not afraid of veterinary students ... Now I know why everyone scrambled for the fences ... I bet Dr. Brock will put this in his column."

We got there just about the time she got tired of whippin' on him. It was a pretty good pounding judging from his torn-off britches and his bloodied nose. We got him in the pickup just in time to watch him turn white and pass out.

I'm pretty sure he will never forget that day. He learned what the pulverizing dance looks like; he learned that it's not sissy to climb a fence; he learned how to finish working cattle in a nearly non-existent pair of britches, and most of all, he learned no matter how strong you think you are, you are not stronger than a cow.

Dr. Brock owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.

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