Lee Pitts: Visiting Dignitaries
Like chuck-line riding cowboys of yesteryear, they go from ranch to ranch, carrying the news and performing a job no one else wants, let alone can do. Other than a few cowboy poets and purebred bull auctioneers, they are the only celebrities we have in the cow business. These VIP’s rank above truck drivers, hay balers, farm advisors, and bankers in status and these coveralled celebrities play a leading role at every ranch, feedlot or auction market in the country. Of course, I’m referring to large animal veterinarians who keep our animals healthy and us informed.
When these friends come to the ranch to preg check, bangs heifers, or treat a horse for colic they receive visiting dignitary status. Life on a big ranch can get lonely, with little contact with the outside world so when a vet honors you with a visit the cow boss might even shave and the lady of the manor might bake up a batch of her delicious chocolate chip cookies.
I’ve never met a bad vet but there are degrees of greatness and there are ways to tell if you are lucky enough to have a rock star vet. The best way to tell is if they’re late. The great ones always are. If your vet is always prompt I’d be saving up to buy a backhoe to bury all his or her mistakes. And remember, good vets drive dirty trucks; the dirtier the truck, the better the vet.
I’ve found that good vets, like good welders, can be a bit on the grumpy side. I don’t know if it’s the pain from a broken knee cap a cow gave them, or if it’s genetic. Maybe they’re just mad at themselves for becoming a large animal vet instead of specializing in small animals where they could work in air conditioned comfort and the biggest danger is an ankle-biting dachshund.
Great vets are rarely closely shaven and if yours looks like he’s been up since two am, he probably has. Large animal vets don’t wear neckties to work and if your lady vet comes wearing freshly starched coveralls and clean rubber boots I’d start that backhoe up if I were you. Most great vets are humble folk but you’d be surprised how many have vanity license plates with self-deprecating messages like Golden Arm, Cow Doc or Horse Kilr. Good cow doctors aren’t much for small talk. Mostly they speak in grunts. They don’t take vacations, have few hobbies and they don’t team rope. Not that they can’t, it’s just that if they rope something they ALWAYS want to get paid for it, not just when they win a jackpot somewhere.
Good vets don’t bring their dog with them and don’t be surprised to see one holding their phone with one hand giving advice to another rancher while their other arm is up the rear end of one of your cows. They are great multi-taskers. One reason vets are late is because they had to fix a squeeze chute on the fly with rusty baling wire at the visit before yours. My vet was never too busy to float a horses’ teeth, rebuild part of my corrals, booster my dog or dress out a dead lamb that wasn’t all his fault.
You’ll find that not all of their methods are taught in school. When they put a prolapse back where it belongs they might also put a Mason jar filled with water inside to weigh it down so the big pink blob won’t fall out again.
Frequently the good Doctor’s team includes his wife who is holding down the fort back at the clinic. She makes all the appointments and is the real brains of the outfit.
Great vets enjoy their work, although they’d never admit it. In offering a prognosis, unlike an M.D., they are brutally honest and they don’t use a big word when a smaller one will do just fine. If you pay close attention you’ll learn more practical knowledge from your vet than you did in four years of college.
After several years in the business your vet may appear jaded and hardened, tempered like steel, and I’ll admit that not all vets have the best bedside manor. But on the other hand, they might purposely forget to send you a bill for putting your old dog to sleep.