A Hot and Dirty Job
- July 14, 2023
- Jan Swan Wood
Hot summers on the northern plains aren’t unusual, but the summer of ’82 was hotter than average. Besides daytime temps of 100 plus degrees, it didn’t cool off at night much below the mid-80s. I was riding on a big string of yearlings and getting through them before it was scorching hot was pretty important, so I was starting at dark thirty, or a little before.
One bunch of the yearlings were spayed heifers. They had been implanted in May before going to pasture. Implants were a big, new thing back then, and the owners of these heifers were really pushing them to get maximum growth on grass. Along about mid-July, the brains in the office decided that a second implant would really boost the gains, so a crew was sent to help me gather the heifers, trail them several miles to a big enough set of pens with a chute, and they were given a second implant.
In about a week or so, when the daytime temps were in that extreme high range, I found my first heifer with a rectal prolapse. I was surprised, but figured there was just something wrong with this one heifer, and that’s why she had prolapsed. I put her back together with a baler twine “pucker string” to keep it that way and went on about my business. In the next days though, I knew I was in a wreck. I found several more heifers that had done the same thing. I called a cow vet I knew and he said that that was why you didn’t give this particular implant that close together and the warning was on the box. That did me a lot of good, as I hadn’t been on the end of the chute to be reading the instructions on the box, and apparently no one else had read them either.
Mind you, I was doctoring everything right where I found them in the pasture. That was fine for foot rots and bad eyes. But these were way more challenging. I had no place to put them in a headcatch or anything. So, I’d rope the heifer, get her down, tie her feet and start on the process of putting a dried out, dirty rectal prolapse back in where it belonged. Being tied down, she’d strain worse than if she was standing. No water or anything was available to clean it up, and nothing to clean me up with when done.
The section of prolapse wasn’t usually terribly large, maybe six to eight inches at most, but after the sun, wind and heat had worked on it, it would be swollen, bloody, cracked and gritty. I promise you that the heifers and I didn’t enjoy the experience at all. There I’d be, on the ground behind a heifer, trying to get the lump back inside, flies hovering around it and me, sun baking down, and no way to make the experience any better for anyone.
I asked the “big boss”, Frank, if I could have some portable panels and a head catch out there, but he said that was a waste of valuable time to set up. Naturally, his startched shirt and nice hat never were within 40 miles of one of those poor heifers, nor did his soft, white hands ever get dirty.
This dragged on for several weeks, with one or two heifers each time I rode on them, which, as I recall, was every third day, as I had lots of other yearlings I was riding on as well. I was fed up with it, but had to help the heifers. My breaking point was finally reached though. My 3 a.m. start time and 16 hour days were starting to show on my disposition and I had a screaming, cussing coniption fit. I had struggled to put this big, baldy heifer’s prolapse back in and she’d strained and fought me until I was ready to just lay on the ground and let the buzzards have both of us. I had a trailer parked a mile or so away that day, so, firmly throwing my sucker in the dirt, so to speak, I left her hobbled, trotted my horse to the trailer, pulled over as close as I could and dragged her into the trailer. I loaded my horse behind her, and headed for town.
When I got to the vet’s office, I was still pretty sizzled, and left her there with him to deal with. I hadn’t eaten in about 10 hours by this time, my horse was tired and hungry, so I watered him and hobbled him on some good grass in the shade behind the vet’s office, washed up as best I could at the hydrant, and headed uptown to a cafe. I must have scrubbed for 20 minutes in the bathroom, trying to get my hands clean enough to appear in public. My wash up at the vet’s hydrant had taken off only the top layer.
Sitting in an air conditioned cafe, with lots of cold water to drink, no flies, and a good meal in front of me was pure luxury. I’m pretty sure I still smelled like the south end of a northbound, prolapsed heifer, as my clothes were pretty gamey, but no one said a word. Fortunately, the lunch crowd was well past.
When I went back for my patched up heifer, the vet said he’d send the bill to the outfit that owned her, as they already had an account with him. I loaded her up, loaded my less hungry horse, and returned her to her pasture. Funny thing, in a few days, a little set of portable pens and a chute with a head catch magically appeared inside the gate at that pasture. No one said a word to me about it, but I used it and didn’t take another heifer to the vet. I’ll bet that bill was a doozy! I’ll bet they never double implanted a bunch of heifers again either.
About Jan Swan Wood
Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....