Hour 1: Two classmates and I carpool to a 10,000-cow dairy, arriving at 8 am to catch the vet as he comes out of a monthly meeting with the herdsmen. The vet is eager to begin work, so he passes out skeins of rectal sleeves, pulls on the ultrasound goggles, and opens the door to the largest barn I’ve ever seen.
Hour 2: The awe of giant fans, vaulted ceilings, and endless cows wanes somewhere around my 20th rectal palpation. Only one student is allowed to palpate a cow after the vet, and only cows more than 45 days pregnant can be palpated by students. So far the vet has checked about 2/3 of the 350 cows in this pen for pregnancy. Oh boy…only 5 more pens to go.
Hour 3: Thank goodness for waterproof coveralls, is all I can say. Despite the mechanical floor scrapers that remove manure every 2 hours, my coveralls are soaked in manure up to mid-calf and I’m spotted like a Dalmatian with manure splatters. But one of my classmates had worse luck: She was standing behind a cow when it coughed, and 2 seconds later she was digging handfuls of manure out of the gap between sweatshirt and coveralls, trying to prevent manure from sliding down between coveralls and pants. It was not a success.
Hour 4: My head is pounding, my throat is parched, and my limbs feel like blocks of ice. I’m longing to escape to drink some water and warm up in the herdsman’s office. I’m now a bit more eager to palpate cows since at least one of my hands will be warm. I feel twin pregnancies for the first time, and it’s rather exciting.
Hour 5: We’re having a spirited discussion about badgers, tuberculosis, and cows in the U.K. as we wait for the current cow traffic jam to resolve. Due to overstocking and barn design, there are 300-350 cows per pen but only 270 headlocks. So we catch 270 cows, the herdsmen identify which cows need to be pregnancy checked, the vet checks their status, then the free cows are sorted to determine which of the remaining ones need to be checked. Needless to say, it’s not the most efficient system, especially because cow traffic jams are frequent and can take several minutes to break up. On the bright side, once we finish this pen we get a 10-minute break to chug some water and visit the restroom!
Hour 6: After the 8th identical cow pen, the vet informs us that we finished the preg checks for the day. I happily strip off my rectal sleeve and trudge through the slop in the direction of the herdsman’s office, desperate for some warmth. But the vet stops me in my tracks, reminding us we have to visit the sick pen before we leave. One cow has an abscess the size of a basketball on the side of its thigh. One of my classmates films the lancing of the abscess, and I later send the video to my brother, who delights in any and all gross things. However, he did not appreciate the video—apparently, he watched it while eating dinner!