BAXTER BLACK has been a cowboy, veterinarian and cattle feeder. Having admittedly failed at all of the above, he has become probably the most well-known western humorist in recent times. Still, he cannot have this story, because it’s all mine, mine along with the undisclosed veterinarian who helped me out of this mess.
I was working on a ranch which is world-famous for its bulls. It feeds all its sale calves and replacement heifers until the spring sale, and it feeds out cull calves until they are ready to go to the packer. Even though I had no feedlot experience to speak of, I was handed the job of caring for the health of 1,500 of these freshly weaned calves. Despite my inexperience, I somehow lost only one sick calf as I managed to get through the winter. Of course, when the following fall rolled around, I was once again placed in the feedlot, this time with an additional 700 calves.
I referred to the feedlot as my “Bovine Penitentiary” where I was warden, guard, and doctor rolled into one. The sale and replacement cattle were my short-timers, and the culls were the death row inmates. While riding through the pens looking for sick animals, I also had to keep a wary eye out for escapees. There were dangerous death row inmates like calf 6079D (out of Houdini by Who Me), a regular escapee. There were also bulls simply escaping to coax a heifer out for a conjugal visit. Since this feedlot covered about 320
acres, I could lose a lot of valuable time running down these vagrant escape artists and placing them in their proper pens, after figuring out which of the 45 pens the little devils belonged in. Now that you have a little background on a typical day, I can get to what old Baxter can be jealous of.
As I pulled into the feedlot one morning, the weatherman was telling everyone to stay indoors because it was going to snow, and the wind-chill was going to be well below zero. (Sounds kinda romantic already, doesn’t it?) Before I got into the pen holding my broncs, I spotted half-a-dozen escapees lounging in the feed alley waiting for me to put them up. ensuring that the weather wasn’t the only thing that was going to hold me up that day.
Giving my mount a little grain while I chipped the ice from his back, I was glad he was more bluff than buck. He was trembling like he had never before been saddled, and when I cinched up, his back was humped more than a camel’s with a two-week supply of water.
After an hour or so, I had the escapees put back into their proper pens. Throughout the job my horse acted as though he were going to make a National Finals bucking horse with every gust of wind. Like I said, I was glad ol’ Dinkus Kahn was mainly bluff.
Between the weather and being a little under the weather myself, it was shaping up to be a tough day. I was deciding whether or not to doctor an animal based not on whether it was sick but instead on whether it looked as bad as I felt.
Along about two o’clock I was in the vet shed with several calves which needed attention. The first couple were easy: a shot here, a couple of pills there. Then along came a standard respiratory ailment which became the wreck of the year. I chose a treatment consisting of a wide array of tetracyclines administered in the vein plus a boost of three sulfa pills. I loaded my syringes, placed them next to the heat lamp to warm up a little, and proceeded to give the pills.
Par usual for the day, the sick little darling didn’t want her medicine, clamping her mouth shut and slinging her head as I attempted to get the bolus gun into her mouth. Finally I “persuaded” her sufficiently to get the gun halfway in her mouth. She started
chewing it and trying to force it out with her tongue. When I finally got the barrel all the way in, I pushed the plunger. It seemed to depress with abnormal ease The look on my face must have been priceless when I removed the gun, for it no longer had a barrel!
Dropping the remains of what had been an essential tool, I grabbed the heifer by the throat and started feeling for the ten-inch by one-inch tube. It should have been in her throat, but it was nowhere to be found. She had managed to completely swallow it. I pulled my trusty radio from my holster (that’s right, now we carry radios rather than guns) and called Earl at the other feedlot.
“Yeah Bob, this is Earl. Go ahead.”
“Earl, I got this little hardware problem I need help with.”
I explained the situation and was rewarded by silence, then laughter.
“She swallowed WHAT?” he asked.
Following Earl’s eventual advice, I got to a phone and called our veterinarian Dr. Smyth. He informed me that if the calf had completely swallowed the barrel, it would probably do no harm lying in her rumen, since the pipe was smooth and wouldn’t puncture anything.
However, the jokes were already starting. The first thing the feeder did when he saw me was to jump out of his truck and grab his throat as if he were choking. I was subjected to remarks like, “Is that the heifer that plays the pipes?”
As a friend of mine likes to put it, “There’s good luck, bad luck, and then there’s Bob luck.” The worse it gets, the Bobber it is, and the next afternoon it got pretty Bobber. As the heifer was chewing her cud, she must have gotten a little confused and tried to bring up the pipe rather than her cud, only to have it stick in her throat, where it was giving her a little problem with her breathing. I called Dr. Smyth to let him know I would be in with the patient. It was six that night before I pulled into his office.
“Hi Bob. Now what are we feeding this heifer?” asked Dr. Smyth.
“A high density aluminum diet,” I replied, as we ran her into his head catch for the initial examination.
“I’ll be danged! I can feel it right there,” he announced as he felt the heifer’s throat. “I’ll just pull it out with a wire.”
Of course, this was a gross underestimate of the task at hand. Dr. Smyth administered an anesthetic which put the patient out just as planned. We rolled her out of the head catch onto the floor and tied her back legs to a post on the alley in case she started kicking or woke and tried to get up. The good doctor bent a heavy piece of wire he kept handy, and I held her head steady as he slipped the wire down her throat. “I can feel it, but I just can’t seem to get ahold of it,” he said, sitting on the floor looking as if he were trying to play pool without watching what he was doing. After several minutes he removed the wire to change the configuration of his hook. This time he managed to catch the pipe on the first try. “Got it!” he exclaimed with an exuberant look on his face. This was quickly replaced with a look of puzzlement and frustration as the tube refused to move past its present point. Dr. Smyth pushed the tube back down and pulled it back up several times.
By this time we were both lying on the floor. Pointing to the back of our patient’s jaw, Dr. Smyth burst out, “The damn thing’s right there! It should just come out!”
“Well, could we put a speculum in her mouth and just reach in and get it?” I asked.
“Great idea!” he exclaimed. He bolted the instrument together, placed it into her mouth, and strapped it onto her head, only to find that his arm was too big to fit through the speculum.
“My arm is smaller than yours. Do you want me to give it a try?” I asked.
With that, we swapped positions so that the good doctor manipulated the calf’s head while I stuck my arm down her throat. Lying on the concrete floor with my arm up to the elbow in the heifer’s throat, I mentioned that I could not feel the pipe. Before Dr.
Smyth could reply, the patient came out of the anesthetic. We had tied her back feet so she couldn’t rise or kick, but those were the least of my problems.
Even with the speculum, she was still able to close her mouth just enough to prevent me from regaining full ownership of my arm as she flopped around like a fish out of water.
Jumping on top of the heifer to keep her from thrashing about so much, Dr. Smyth inquired, “Are you all right?”
“I think so, but I can’t get my hand out of her mouth,” I replied, writhing on the floor like a snake trying to wrench my arm out of her molars.
Dr. Smyth ran to his medicine cabinet for more anesthetic. Once the heifer was back asleep, she relaxed and I retrieved my bruised hand from her mouth. Dr. Smyth noted, “We shouldn’t try that again. You could get hurt.”
Trying to put a good front on things, I replied, “It wasn’t that bad.”
“You couldn’t have told me that. I don’t know whose eyes were rolled back the most, yours or the heifer’s,” said the doctor as I rubbed my tooth-marked hand.
Next, we shaved her neck and manipulated the pipe up and down her throat a few times. We were contemplating whether or not to perform surgery when Dr. Smyth came up with one more, last-ditch idea. First he manipulated the pipe as far down her throat as he could. Then he ran another, slightly larger pipe down her throat until we could hear the ends clink together. Finally he ran the wire hook through both pieces of pipe and pulled both of them together. On the fourth try, the stuck tube slid out easily, and Dr. Smyth,
looking like a kid in a candy store, exclaimed, “By God, I got it!!” At precisely the same time the heifer woke up and was definitely ready to go home, where she served
the remainder of her sentence in pen 242. The only thing I could thinkn of was “Baxter Black eat yer heart out cuz this story is mine and you can’t have it!”
See, Baxter, these things don’t happen to just you.