One of life’s greatest blessings must be spending a day with one’s adult child as he performs his job. This humble, sincere, thirty-six year old son of ours is a large animal veterinarian in the rolling, dairy farm country of upstate New York. He puts many miles on each day in the Vet truck, tending to mostly cows, but horses as well and conversing with the farmers as they tend to their animals and farm fields.
Whenever my husband Paul and I are here at the New York farm house, I try to take the opportunity to ride in the Vet truck with our son, Dr. Jim, experiencing whatever makes for an ordinary workday for him. Now I want to clarify before I officially begin the day’s events, that I know I cannot get all the medical terminology correct. Thus the descriptions I write are definitely from my laywoman’s but daughter of a dairy farmer perspective.
Our son’s day begins either checking in at the practice and picking up the Vet truck or else starting off from home already in the Vet truck. Possibly he was on call the night before or else just kept the truck (plugged in, of course) overnight. After getting appointments from the practice’s scheduler (I think it is Judy), the schedule for the day’s farm visits are written on a yellow legal pad and our first stop is a big, did I say big? dairy farm that milks cows 21 of the 24 hours of the day. The milking is done in a parlor where the cows file in and out as directed and the cows’ udders are just at the perfect height and reach for the attendant.
The purpose of the visit today is a herd check. No, I don’t mean to check if the herd is there, but instead to verify through a mildly intrusive whole arm into the back end of the cow exam to feel if the cow or heifer (young cow) is pregnant. Dairy farmers usually have a weekly or bi-weekly standing appointment with the vet to check cows for pregnancy. It is a vital piece of the whole process of milk production. For close to three hours I followed Dr. Jim and assistant herdsman of the farm through the land of manure-filled free stall barns and I believe checked between forty and fifty cows. I recorded the results – “OK” was the desired outcome and “Open” was not. The fantastic item to note in the pregnancy checks is that it is all done by feeling inside the cow - being sensitive enough to notice something as small as an M&M to show pregnancy. This mother felt very proud watching the “Doc” verifying all that new cow life to be. As a side note … some farms have bathrooms in the milk house/farm office area. This one did and I used it. I will leave the ambiance of the facility to your imagination. After each farm visit comes the washing of the “Mucker” boots with a special solution in water. There can be no transfer of one farm’s germs, so to speak, to another by way of the boots.
Our next stop, believe it or not, is the home farm where our daughter-in-law, Amy, and son live. Amy, along with her family (including dad Dee, sister Rachael, and mom Pat) run the dairy farm along with hired employees. Another herd check is in order here and you already know the drill. I must add there were a few times that I stepped back from the action. Cows can get a bit frisky when in heat and I could feel the uneasiness creep in as I was in the midst of them in the free stall area. Free stall means the cows aren’t in stanchions but instead free to roam in the enclosed barn.
Another stop in our day was to an even bigger farm; I believe 800 milking cows. As there wasn’t the farmer or herdsman or farmworker available for information, a note was left about what cow to check. Dr. Jim looked up the sick cow’s stats on the farm computer in the barn office to see what might have precipitated the call. The cow had dropped in milk production. After catching and securing the cow in a stanchion, Dr. Jim checked all vitals but could not initially find the reason for the drop in production. Thus, a note from Dr. Jim was left for the farmer at the computer station. A phone call about the cow from the farmer came later in the afternoon as we were putting more miles on the Vet truck.
We finished this “shorter than normal” day at a Mennonite farm. I’d been there previously when Paul and I went there to see one of this farmer’s son’s maple syrup operation. When we pulled into the driveway in the Vet truck, it was evident it was wash day. The family’s clothes flapped in the cold, March wind as they hung on the clothesline that stretched over the driveway. This call was a follow-up on tests that Dr. Jim had done the week before on some of the cows and calves.
As I reflect on the day, I didn’t get to see any surgeries. I do enjoy watching our son perform surgeries, like for twisted stomachs. (You know cows have four stomachs.) And I didn’t get to see any calvings unless you count the dead calf that was pulled by the herdsman at the first farm we visited. I do enjoy watching our son aid a cow in her delivery. But what I did see is the very respectful and caring way our son, Dr. Jim, relates to and converses with the farmers, the children of the farmers and the employees of all these dairy farms, up, down and in between the many hills in Jefferson and Oswego counties in upstate New York.
Our son mentioned to me during one of our many conversations in the Vet truck on this ride-with day, that many people think being a Veterinarian is a glamorous job. He said it isn’t glamorous and I agree that it isn’t. There’s the hard, physical work of it, especially when animals don’t want to cooperate with the position you need them to be in to treat them; there’s the dealing with farmers and their frustrations especially since you are treating the animals that support them and their families; there’s the long hours, often 12 or more hours a day and that’s not mentioning all the on-call nights and weekends; and then there’s the driving, maybe a hundred miles a day just to get to the farms. Our son shared that one day last week he drove 350 miles in the Vet truck in a 24 hour period.
But we all know that it is best to focus on the positive and that is what Dr. Jim does. He cares for animals and their caretakers – the farmers. He treats all with respect and love and I can attest to this for I have heard him in action. What is such a joy though to me as a parent is to witness the respect and caring reflected in the words spoken by the farmers to our son, Dr. Jim. Priceless!
It was a good day in the Vet truck and also a good one with all of my hundreds of girlfriends – the cows.