As summer begins to wind down, the 4-H fair season here in Maryland is at its peak. County fair after county fair, the 4-H’ers around here are moving and shaking things up. Blow-drying their steers, fluffing their chickens, training their hogs; these kids are busy. And so are we vets.
The month of August for ambulatory large animal vets around these parts is spent primarily in the vast ocean that is health papers. By the end of the month, I am usually drowning. Checking for ringworm, nasal discharge, foot rot, and warts is the name of the game as I search for signs of contagious disease before these animals coalesce upon the public and each other. Ensuring the animals have a form of permanent ID is the next step, and vaccinations are the final part of a routine that, although routine in the broad sense of the word, is rarely ever routine in the literal sense.
Take Steer 502J: a big, black, well-muscled bovine with a glossy coat, moist nose, and ornery disposition. As his owner leads him into the chute for me, instead of stopping at the head gate, he continues on his way, as if to say, "No thanks, not in the mood for vaccines and an ear tattoo today." 502J then continues at a fairly quick pace down the fence line with his owner in tow, heels dug in and trying everything in his power to put the brakes on. Sometimes, however, steers don’t have breaks.
As I charge down the hill toward the quickly vanishing steer, the animal turns and then starts toward me. I do the quickest about-face you have ever seen and hide behind the chute as the steer comes back up the hill, owner still in tow. As the steer then decides he’s tired of this game, the owner somehow manages to lead the animal back into the chute, this time latching the head gate securing before any further escapes can be made. Then I emerge from my hiding spot, vaccines in hand. The owner asks coyly if he might administer one of the vaccines. You know, for pay back. He is only half joking.
Then there is the call involving health checks on sheep. Things are going fairly well despite the fact that there are about twenty adolescent ram lambs in a pen hopping and jumping and being generally frisky and unwilling to be caught. Just then, a soon-to-be 4H’er of only about three years old hands me a chicken and walks off when. Granted, it was a very calm chicken (used to being carted around by a three-year-old, I suppose), especially amongst the clipboard, pen, and stethoscope I already had in my hands. Holding a random chicken while filling out paperwork should be an Olympic sport. Additionally, there should be a prize for successfully avoiding getting bird poop all over the health papers.
As tedious as health papers can be by the end of the summer, there is one thing that is extremely rewarding about the entire process: Many of the animals I do health papers for in August I have seen (or even delivered) the previous spring. Seeing a lamb grow from a gangly heap of legs to a mature, fully developed, well-proportioned specimen of the breed is cool. Even if this fine specimen head butts me as I examine him for foot rot. Remember, I’m the lady with the needles.
Dr. Anna O’Brien