Tricounty News

The bull was not pregnant, Veterinarian column

As glamorous as being a farm vet is (chuckle), there is one duty in particular that we perform on a daily basis that invariably gets either a gasp or a snicker (depending on their personality) from every first-timer witnessing the job. We begin by reaching into a plastic bag containing what look like plastic gloves, except that as the glove is being pulled out of the bag, it seems never-ending. At the end of a very long pull from the bag, the first-timer's eyebrows rise upon realization that what the vet has produced from the bag is no ordinary plastic glove... it is an entire plastic sleeve with a hand on the end. As the vet reaches deeply into this beast of a glove, fingers wiggling for placement on one end and shoulder disappearing into the other, the first-timers usually cannot mask the look of horror on their faces as their minds engage in an internal struggle between what their eyes are telling them might be about to happen, and what their natural instincts are telling them: "There's no way he's really going to do that."

The eyes begin to overrule the natural instincts as the vet approaches the backside of the cow, ceremoniously adjusting the fingers and shoulder of "the sleeve," and with a simple lift of the tail, the newbie's mind concedes to what his eyes were saying: "He is actually doing this." Before the first-timer can retrieve his lower jaw from the floor of the barn, the vet is demonstrating just why that glove extends the entire length of the arm: the vet has now entered what has been coined "the darkest place on Earth"... he is shoulder-deep in the rectum of a cow. After a suspenseful moment of contemplation and feeling around, the vet declares either "pregnant" or "open," reclaiming his arm, much smellier and dirtier than it was only a moment before.

Why would anyone want this done to his cow, and why would anyone who went to college for eight years agree to do it? Well, because most people who have cattle want them to be pregnant, either in order to produce milk, calves, or both, and we can actually tell by feel or ultrasound as early as 28 days after breeding whether the cow is pregnant or not, because the uterus containing the pregnancy lies right below where the hand is in the rectum and can be assessed by a trained hand since the animal is large, and we are relatively small. The same is true for horses, except that their pregnancies can be detected as early as 17 days. Besides all that, in the winter it's a warm place to put your arm.

So we do this every day, and it really is no big deal to the vet, the farmer, or the cow (other than an occasional lazy glance over the shoulder accompanied by a "moo.") And as a one-time newbie myself, it has been fun to see how fast I can get while maintaining accuracy, since most farms have many cows to check each time the vet is out. So I really wanted to demonstrate my pregnancy-checking prowess to my co-worker's family when they had me out to see if their beef cows were pregnant. Her dad and brothers were chasing cows through a chute, and my only focus was like that slogan from some company I can't remember: "Get in, get out, get on with your life." One after another, I would reach into "the darkest place on Earth" giving them the "stinky pinkie," and as quickly as I had my answer, declare them pregnant or open. Finally I got to one animal that took me a minute to figure out, because something just didn't feel quite right. Here I am in front of a bunch of guys, not to mention they were my co-worker's family, and my plan of showing them the fastest preg-checker they had ever seen was being held up by this one animal.

Finally I said something to the effect of: "She's open, but something doesn't feel right in there." Looking up, thinking I just gave them some valuable information in regard to future breeding prospects with this animal, I noticed them all looking at each other with unexplainable grins considering the news I had just delivered, until one spoke up and said: "You just preg-checked the bull!" I'll probably never live it down, but I try making myself feel better by thinking "At least you didn't call him pregnant."