Monday, February 11, 2008

The Reluctant Vet

The reluctant vet would be me. I don't remember having a discussion before we moved to the farm about who would give shots, clean dirty wounds, or bandage large, hairy animals. I should have had an inkling our very first week here when the dog tore off a sheep's ear.

The short story is that our dogs, unfamiliar with livestock other than cats, couldn't believe their good fortune at landing on a farm. Within 24 hours, the rooster had lost most of his long, gorgeous tail feathers in a scrape with one of them. Within a week both dogs became a pack, chasing the sheep and cornering one in a waters of the Honey Grove. "Look, it's white and it's running. Must go faster. Must jump on it. Must grab something to hang onto. Got an ear. Oh, no, it's heading for the creek. Brrr, cold water. Must hang on. Must hang on."

By the time we could catch up, since our yelling did no good, Cisco was on top of the ewe in the middle of the creek while Patches was on the banks barking. The sheep was dazed and soggy, neck high in water, backed up to the bank. I've told this story before, so to get to the end quickly, Annie became the singing nurse and I became the reluctant vet. I kept the wound treated with antiseptic until it healed, watched for flies and sprayed repellent, gave a round of antibiotic shots, and ended up with a ewe that was deaf, a sad reminder of our beginning foray into farm life.

Some years have passed since that horrifying first week. I don't call the vet to tend our sheep. The ewes will fetch $50 at the auction and a vet call starts at $125. I keep my Betadine antiseptic, my sterile gloves, and my Raising Sheep book in places I can find them easily and fast. Luckily sheep don't often have wounds (you know about anyway) through all that wool and mostly they are alive or dead and not much in between. I can deal with hoof rot and worming, but have been less successful with fly strike which I have only had to deal with twice. The reality is, it would probably be more humane to shoot the animal than deal with maggots eating at their flesh because, while I cured one, the other died right as I asked Greg to get the gun.

The chickens, the turkeys, the geese, and the peacock don't see the vet either. The first time the chickens started molting in the winter I thought they had some dread disease and started asking questions of my neighbors. Once it became apparent this "disease" was seasonal and the feathers grew back, I relaxed. I just thought it odd the birds would lose all their feathers at the coldest period of the year.

The dogs and cats are almost never under my care, unless it is to give medicine or check for fleas. There is something about allowing animals to sit on your lap or sleep on the bed (cats only...dogs only sneak on the couch) that makes it difficult to then hold them down for a shot. I even leave trimming of toe nails to our daughters since I don't want to be known as that "lady who quicked me and made my toes bleed". I also don't want to get bitten. I hold the head and jaws; the girls trim as quickly as they can.

The horses aren't quite so lucky in terms of shots, although talk about a reluctant vet. The needle used for a horse looks way too big even for an animal of that size. How could it not hurt? But, I am learning to give shots when necessary...and my friends aren't available to do it for me... because it is what people do in the country. Damn! I have had lessons from the vet and I have had lessons from my neighbors, but each time it's like a whole new experience. My solution: I buy an orange and practice on it until the syringe is filled with orange juice! Hold the needle like this, press this hard, oops too hard, oops not hard enough, try again, now you have it.

Tater, our bulky Quarterhorse, did look at me the other day when I had to administer an ungodly amount of antibiotics, as if he felt something. Did he? Did I do the injection correctly? Hopefully he will forget the experience just as I forget in between times. In this case, amnesia is a blessing.

Oh, yeah, and the orange? I used it in a dinner recipe that night.

Photo: Tater sleeping in the orchard last summer after a hard day of shots that day!

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