Tall Cow, Fat
Making the right diagnosis sometimes requires a site visit.
The trailer rolled into the clinic parking lot, eliciting sighs of amazement from a group of onlookers. Mr Pep was the client’s name, and he was bringing in his sick cow. The other clients who happened to be at the clinic with me stood with dropped jaws as he pulled across the expanse from the road to the building.
It’s not every day you see a cow riding on a flatbed trailer. This was no ordinary flatbed; it must have been 5 feet off the ground, and it had a cow strapped down on it with those “come along”–type straps that people use to bind round bales—not your ordinary bovine delivery method.
A ‘real sick’ cow
Pep had called early that morning to tell me that he had a “real sick” cow that I needed to come out and examine. My reply included phrases such as, “I’m really busy this morning. It will be quite a while before I can get away,” “It would be better if you could bring her in. I don’t want anything to happen to her, so we could get to her quicker if you could load her up,” and “Get her here as quick as you can.”
It was now 5:00 pm, and I had almost completely forgotten he had phoned.
Strapped to that trailer was the skinniest cow I had ever seen. She looked like something from an Ace Reid cartoon. Every rib was visible, and her flanks were so sunken they almost touched in the middle. I was amazed.
“What are you feeding her, Pep?” was all I could think to say as I stood over her.
“I got a giant pile of food for ’em out there,” he replied with great conviction.
“Do all of your cows look like this?” was the next logical question.
“No. About half of ’em are big and fat.”
I learned early on in my career that the last thing you ever want to do is argue with an opinionated cow raiser about nutrition. So I treated the cow as best I could, and Pep went merrily on his way.
To the pasture
Three days later, he called me to treat another cow. This time, things around the clinic were quiet, so I drove out to his place on the outskirts of Clarendon. Pep told me that the cow we treated at the clinic was much better, but another one had gone down, and 2 or 3 others were in bad shape. What I saw when I arrived amazed me. He must have had a hundred cows grazing in what looked like a junkyard.
As I stood in the middle of Pep’s “pasture,” I assessed the herd. He was right; some of the cows were big and fat, but others looked as poor as any cattle I had seen in my life. My mind raced with every diagnostic differential I learned during vet school. I considered disease, poisoning, old cows with bad teeth, and other afflictions with big, Latin-sounding names.
As I pondered the situation with perplexity, it suddenly hit me: All the fat cows were tall, and all the short cows were skinny. My eyes moved from cow to cow…tall cow, fat…short cow, skinny…tall cow, fat…short cow, skinny. There was no variance as I scanned the entire herd.
“Pep, where is this pile of food you told me about?”
“Over there behind the barn.”
“You mind if I have a look at it?”
“Shoot, no. Come on over.”
As we rounded the corner, I found my diagnosis. There, about 10 feet behind the barn, was another flatbed that was 5 feet off the ground. A large group of the short cattle were straining their necks, trying to reach to the “giant pile” of food that the tall cows had eaten back from the edge.
I counseled Pep for a while about pushing that feed off the trailer so the short cows could get to it. I could tell he thought that was going to be too much work, but he grudgingly agreed that he would do something to remedy the situation.
I drove by Pep’s place about a month later and decided to stop by to see how the short cows were faring. He was nowhere to be found, so I drove on over to the pasture and checked on the cows. Things looked good—tall cow, fat…short cow, fat.
You’ll never believe how Pep had addressed the problem. There, in the same spot as before, was the flatbed trailer with a pile of food on it. The only difference was that Pep had apparently hired a backhoe to dig a pit into which he could park the trailer. Now the trailer was lower to the ground, and all the cattle could get to the pile.
They just can’t teach you stuff like this in vet school.
Bo Brock, DVM, owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas. His latest book is Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere: Tales of Humor and Healing From Rural America.