January 1980 is a month I’ll never forget. It all started out about January 7. The previous spring, I had a big hand in selecting the bulls we were gonna use on Albert and Louie’s heifers. Albert had 400 head and we decided to artificially inseminate them in one cycle, then use clean-up bulls. After much discussion with the local A.I. man, I chose a Brangus bull; an easy calver, the book said. For Louie’s 125 heifers, I bought him six brown Swiss bulls.
That fateful morning I called Albert on the phone:
"Mornin’, Albert! How’s it going?"
"Albert? Are you there?"
"Ten calved so far ... three live calves ... had to pull all ten...."
"Maybe you better come out to the ranch."
"Sure, sure, I’ll be right out."
"Uh, maybe you better bring a bedroll."
I called Louie before I left for Albert’s:
"Louie, how’s the calving going?"
"What are you doing for the next six weeks?"
"What do you mean?"
"Four have calved. We pulled ‘em all. One’s still alive. Oh, by the way, three of the heifers are down. On second thought, the way the boys are cussin’ you, you better wait a day or two ... ’til they’ve cooled off. You’d stand a better chance of leavin’ in one piece!"
I spent the next weeks in a daze drivin’ the 100 or so miles back and forth between Louie and Albert. Sleepin’ in the straw every chance I got, eatin’ when they took pity on me and calvin’ heifers. They made me tie a white flag on my antenna and wear one of those convention name tags that said, "Hello, my name is MUD."
I got run over, stepped on, kicked, mashed, mauled, horned, hammered and cussed, and the heifers did a lot of damage, too! I learned how to do a Cesarean section in my sleep, sutured my surgical glove to a uterus twice and lost 25 pounds! The boys stayed by me every step of the way, but they never once put their arm around me and said, "Don’t worry, Doc, it could have happened to anybody."
I hit bottom the day I went out and looked at two downer heifers I’d been feeding and watering for three weeks. One of ‘em, number 258, I’d been getting up every day and she’d try a little. I thought she had a chance. The other one hadn’t gotten up for 10 days in spite of all my magic medicine and physical therapy. She was failing fast. Both were thin-horned Herefords. I examined them that morning and decided to euthanize the worst one. I was just puttin’ my rifle back in the pickup when Albert walked up and said, "Why’d ya shoot that one?"
Yup, you guessed it ...... I shot the wrong cow!
They didn’t ask me to help select sires the next year. The last I heard they were looking for 500 A.I. ampules from a small Suffolk buck!
Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television and also through his books, cds, videos and website, www.baxterblack.com.