The other day, my wife greeted me as I came home and yelled out, “Was it a good day? How many babies did you make?”
To the uninitiated, that may seem like an odd greeting, and yet for us, Vet Check Friday is kind of a big deal.
Keeping the vast portion of your milking herd in the 60- to 120-day window post-calving is a recipe for profitability and requires a farmer to get super excited about ovaries. As a cosmopolitan gentleman, this knowledge of ovaries can be a little unsettling when you can actually contribute to the girls' chat on the varying topics that revolve around female anatomy.
On our farm, Vet Check Friday aligns with Donut Friday. There is an excitement brewing that is somewhat like the times when you rip open a feed bag string in one pull. The vet pulls into the yard and gears up to battle the hind end of the cow with layers of plastic gloves and rain gear.
We shuffle our way over the pens of locked-up cows as the morning sun peaks over the mountain, only temporarily blocked by a murmuration of starlings that darken the sky. Several curse words are offered up to the individual who intentionally released starlings into Central Park in 1890, so we in the U.S. could have “every bird mentioned by Shakespeare.” If ever a farmer is asked to contribute any donation to the fine arts industry, might I remind them of our collective daily grain contribution in the millions of dollars for this Shakespearian vision.
Finding our group of cows, we work our way down the line with a dialogue of how many days bred and echoed back with a resounding “pregnant” or a more disappointed “open.” Some of the rise and fall of emotions in vet check is because in a lot of ways getting cows pregnant is a barometer on a lot of other things, most chiefly that unhealthy cows don’t get pregnant.
The vet check will often take a bit of an exciting turn as the veterinarian and I are fighting for our lives to lock up the last cow in the pen. She will most likely be a Jersey. I don’t discriminate, and this is based mostly on anecdotal evidence. This cow will be crawling under stalls and jumping over other cows. In fact, if you witnessed this display, you would be less inclined to call your friend a conspiracy theorist who believes a cow jumped over the moon. After a National Finals Rodeo-style performance, the cow is finally locked up in the stanchions, which leads to the necessity of sliding an ultrasound probe into their rectal cavity. If you are impressed with cowboys roping a deranged lunatic cow and tying it up, have I found a newer and much more exciting form of entertainment for you.
Invariably, we will find out this cow is open and we will have to go through the entire charade again in a month. Or we have to make a decision on whether to risk life and limb again or send our problem child off to the Golden Arches. While I don’t ever hate any cow, I have often enjoyed a cheeseburger and imagined it being the problem cow.
Our vet check is tallied up, and credit is given to the real rock star of the program, the breeder. The breeder has the task of identifying, prepping and inseminating the right cows at the right time on the right day.
Vet check is undoubtedly enjoyable because it is a chance to see cows, and talk cows, but it’s also a great human experience where you work with someone you enjoy talking with about every aspect of life. Vets are more than a contractor; they are often an integral part of the team and a trusted adviser in life. I’ve often wondered if at the end of the vet check, when the vet is standing there covered in cow poop in the pouring rain, if they ever questioned their choice of being a veterinarian over an M.D.
So yes, Mrs. Faber, it was a good vet check. We made 32 babies. As my good friend and neighbor Eric would say, “Father’s Day is always a big day for me on the farm.”