There are plenty of things to do before the sun comes up. You could make a cup of coffee, stretch, journal, check emails, or sit in the darkness anxiously awaiting the phone alarm. You could also have your arm, and probably part of your shoulder, deep inside the rectum of a cow. You could be covered in manure, fingers cramping trying to feel the ovaries and uterus, questioning why you chose to ride with the ambulatory veterinarian assigned the early herd checks. In this moment you might think to yourself:
“Very few people can say they have ever done this. Seriously. How many of us have ever had our arm in a cow’s rectum? How many of us have ever had our arm in a cow’s rectum before sunrise? What a unique and special experience! And how important it is too! Beef cattle pregnancy checks are essential to farm economics, families’ livelihoods, cattle herd health, and the security of part of the human food supply. And veterinary students like me, especially we who have no desire to do this sort of stuff in the future, in doing this have the opportunity to do something different. We have the chance to do something challenging, something that most will never have the chance to be challenged by.”
Or you could opt for that cup of coffee. Or just stay in bed.
Pre-6 am existential thoughts aside, I am writing this blog post in an attempt to pass on to you, the reader, an idea that comes to mind when you are cold, covered in manure, and wanting to have your arm in a cow’s rectum solely to keep your fingers warm. I am by no means a large animal veterinarian, nor will I ever be. My knowledge for horses, livestock, and all other farm animals is limited to whatever was tested on the NAVLE. But it does not take fancy veterinary training to see, in real time, when an animal is benefiting from the work you do.
While palpating ovaries, I was surprised to see a cow – cow #669 – running around like a dog, barreling down the parlor, no care or worry in the world (or so it seemed in my anthropomorphizing mind). The cow looked happy. I could not tell if the cow I was palpating was pregnant, but cow #669 looked happy. I was sure of that.
In that transient, thought-provoking moment I also considered three other things:
- Cows are just like dogs, so curious and playful – maybe we should reconsider consuming them?
- The role of the veterinarian in food production and biosecurity is little spoken of but extremely crucial, especially in today’s interconnected, disease-ridden, fragile world. If you enjoy your hamburger on July 4th, or any other day of the week, you have a veterinarian to thank.
- I cannot be a large animal veterinarian for a living, but my inability does not make this career any less important (because clearly it is, see #2).
That stream of early morning consciousness ended with this final, succinct, noteworthy thought:
Although cows can live for up to 20 years, they are often destined for a short 3 to 5-year life producing milk, after which they are processed for meat when the cost of maintaining them in the herd exceeds their commercial value. Veterinarians know this. And it is with this understanding that veterinarians – while working to maintain herd health, food safety, and families’ livelihoods – also provide cows with happiness, even if it is just for a little while.