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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Almost a Veterinarian

Almost a Veterinarian

Almost a Veterinarian

by Garry Leeson of Kingston, NS

In 1976, after reading the memoirs of a much-lauded veterinarian/author from Yorkshire England, I got it into my head that I would make a good DVM myself. It was a rather bold aspiration inasmuch as I was a thirty-three year old high school dropout with few credentials and no visible means of support.

My wife, Andrea, and I had forsaken a hectic city lifestyle a couple of years earlier, opting for a simpler existence back on the land in Nova Scotia but it had become apparent that since our financial nest egg had run out, we would be needing something beyond the meager subsistence that our land was providing.

It was a shot in dark: I hadn’t been in a classroom for fifteen years, but I made my way back to Guelph, Ontario, where the only veterinarian school in Canada was located. I wrote the entrance exams for mature students but I wasn’t all that happy with the way things went for me. I was clearly the most mature of the mature students present and the last to hand in my papers and leave the room. Heading back home I was feeling defeated but grateful that I wouldn’t be required to go back to an environment where I felt so out of place. Two weeks later after I had settled back to working happily in our woodlot fate intervened. Andrea got to the mailbox before me and read my letter of acceptance so there was no avoiding what it said. I think general enrollment must have been very low and the school desperate because much to my surprise I was accepted.

It was a long hard haul for me as I laboured through the first semester trying to get caught up academically and although I managed to make the grades, I was still a long way from even being in the pre-vet program.

When I got home for summer holidays I shared some of the problems that I had encountered with a few of my neighbours explaining that under the circumstances it was very unlikely that I would ever get a degree but they just ignored what I said. Back in those days if you told a farmer that you were going to Guelph University it meant only one thing: you were either now a vet or would shortly be one, but more importantly if you were a neighbour and friend it meant the possibility of free services for them.

It did no good to try to explain that I hadn’t been near a horse or a cow all the time I was at the college and that I had spent all my time studying unrelated first year subjects like Psychology and Social Anthropology. They didn’t know what I was talking about and they didn’t care.

I wasn’t home for a week before the phone started ringing. I could have said no to the first requests I got but the things they needed help with were things that any neighbour might be asked to do: helping with calving — turning and pulling calves was not something that was strictly in the purview of a professional so I didn’t feel comfortable saying no when asked. As a result I often found myself lying on my back in a filthy stall floor with my feet braced against a reclining heifer’s rump hauling on my pulling chains.

Lame workhorses with abscesses in their hooves were no problem for me as I had seen and dealt with them with my own animals so I really couldn’t say no to those sorts of requests. I even acquired some of the medication Dr. Herriot mentioned in his book. After digging through the sole of the horse’s foot and releasing the pressure I would insert one of the crystals he referred to into the hole and a puff of smoke would come billowing up. I don’t think it did any good and neither did Herriot, but the horse owners were impressed and appreciative especially because it wasn’t costing them anything. Herriot was also on the money when he recommended using sugar to reduce the swelling in a cow’s prolapsed uterus. It made stuffing it back in a hell of a lot easier.

I became the go to guy when an old suffering horse had to be euthanized. I didn’t like doing it but I knew how and believed then and still do now that the old accepted method of a well-placed bullet is superior to the stressful series of injections currently used.

The first time I really stepped over the ethical line involved a yearling steer that belonged to my closest neighbour, Bertram Morse. He had the young animal tied in a dark corner of his barn and it was obviously in distress. One hindquarter was swelled up to twice the size of the other and was hot and drum tight to the touch. The animal had obviously punched something into its hip and the hip had become infected. I should have backed off and told Bertram to call a vet but I knew he was habitually short of cash and I thought I knew what was wrong and how to deal with it so I gave into his pleads. I had seen a similar situation years earlier, not with a steer but with a horse that had been injured in shipping. A good old-fashioned vet had attended on that occasion and I assisted him. The first thing he did was to request that I get him two large water buckets. Then he told me to stay close to him with the buckets while he wielded his scalpel. He showed me the optimum spot then made a shallow slice in the hide near the point of the hip. “The trick is not to slice any of the muscle fibers,” he explained as he handed me back the scalpel. “You just use your finger to poke them apart.” When he withdrew his finger a flume of puss flew out under pressure and continued to flow till it had filled the better part of two buckets. It was not something that I was likely to forget.

I figured I was now being confronted by a like situation so I approached Bertram’s steer in the same way and got a similar result. I say similar because, unfortunately, I was kneeling beside the critter at the time and when I pulled my finger out I got the first gush of puss directly in my face before I could apply the bucket.

After that tainted triumph Bertram became my best customer although he and the other farmers who kept my phone busy seemed to think that an occasional pat on the back was sufficient reward for my trouble. In all fairness to Bertram I will admit that on one occasion he offered to give me one of his cows if I could save her. I knew I would be dealing with a hopeless case and that the old guy was really looking for a little company in his sorrow because there was no way he would ever let me lead one of his cows away.

When I got to the barn my worst suspicions were confirmed. His favorite cow, a roan shorthorn named Matilda, was laying flat out breathing heavily and moaning. It didn’t take a real vet to deduce that the animal was in the final stages of pneumonia and that there was very little anyone was going to do about it. The cow was still on her stall platform with her neck in a metal stanchion. I was about to suggest that we release the animal and drag her over to a more comfortable bed of straw when inspiration struck and I abandoned the idea of merely palliative care. If the cow had any chance of recovering, what she needed was oxygen and I’d just remembered that I had oxygen — at least I had my oxy-acetylene welding equipment and that might serve.

An hour later I was dragging my oxygen tank and regulator into the barn and speculating on how to get the life saving gas into Matilda. I didn’t want to move her so I decided, using some scrap wood and sheet plastic, to construct a tent over her reclining body. It was quick fix and a couple of hours after turning the gas on I got some promising results. The cow began to perk up but, in doing so, clambered to her feet and destroyed the tent I had made. It was back to square one but my next attempt was more practical and direct. I decided to introduce the hose from the oxygen tank directly into the cow’s nostril. I solved the problem of keeping it in place by drilling a hole through her horn so that I could wire it in place.

Miracles do happen because after letting the oxygen trickle into her over the next couple of days Matilda recovered completely. When it came to ownership of the cow, Bertram suffered a lapse of memory and I wasn’t even comfortable asking for compensation for my empty oxygen tank.

For years afterward, whenever we drove past his pasture, I would look at his herd and say, “Hey kids, there’s our cow — she’s still looking good.”

I went back to Guelph and had another shot at becoming a DVM but it was apparent that it wasn’t going to work for me so I came home and reverted to my former dropout status. Over the years I have quizzed countless veterinarians and I have never found anyone who was not in some way inspired by James Herriot’s books and I might have been one of them if I had persevered but it was not to be. A little knowledge can be dangerous so I was relieved when, with the demise of the small local farms, requests for my illegal veterinarian ministrations slowed down. Occasionally, very occasionally now, someone will ask me for help and, despite the hard earned lessons of the past, I still can’t say no.

Spotlight On: People

In Memoriam Gene Logsdon

In Memoriam: Gene Logsdon

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Gene didn’t see life (or much of anything else) through conventional eyes. I remember his comment about a course he took in psychology when he was trying to argue that animals did in fact have personalities (as any farmer or rancher will tell you is absolutely true), and the teacher basically told him to sit down and shut up because he didn’t know what he was taking about. Gene said: “I was so angry I left the course and then left the whole stupid school.”

Mule Powered Wrecker Service

Mule Drawn Wrecker Service

This will only add fuel to those late night discoursians about the relative merits of horses over mules or viciversy. Is the horse the smarter one for hitching a ride or is the mule the smarter one for recognizing the political opportunity which this all represents? In any event these boys know what they are doing, or should, so don’t try this at home without horse tranquilizers. Remember that politics is a luke warm bowl of thin soup.

Changing of Seasons

LittleField Notes: Changing of Seasons

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We are blessed who are active participants in the life of soil and weather, crops and critters, living a life grounded in seasonal change. This talk of human connection to land and season is not just the rambling romantic musing of an agrarian ideologue. It is rather the result of participating in the deeply vital vocation that is farming and knowing its fruits first hand.

NYFC Bootstrap Videos Clover Mead Farm

NYFC Bootstrap Videos: Clover Mead Farm

I couldn’t have been happier to collaborate with The National Young Farmers Coaltion again when they called up about being involved in their Bootstrap Blog Series. In 2013, all of their bloggers were young and beginning lady dairy farmers, and they invited us on board to consult and collaborate in the production of videos of each farmer contributor to the blog series.

Building a Community, Building a Barn

Building a Community, Building a Barn

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One of the most striking aspects of this development is the strength and confidence that comes from this communal way of living. While it is impressive to build a barn in a day it seems even more impressive to imagine building four barns or six, and all the rest of the needs of a community. For these young Amish families the vision of a shared agricultural community is strong, and clear.

Rainshadow Organics Saralee and the Interns

Rainshadow Organics: Saralee & the Interns

Rainshadow Organics in Central Oregon is a really big small farm. As part of their mission to produce and promote good food, they participate in the Rogue Farm Corps internship program. This season they have 7 interns who made time during their lunch break to speak to us about the program.

The Way it Wasnt

The Way it Wasn’t

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It often seems to me that a good share of life is determined by our own perspectives. I’ve competed in pulls where the team came in last and I was completely content, if not downright thrilled. I’ve had other times when the team pulled all they could and behaved perfectly, and still disappointed me. It’s just my personal perspective on that particular day that led to my disappointment or pleasure. Let’s face it; a day at a pull, with the good people a pull attracts, and the bond shared with horses is a good day that we should cherish whether you finished first or last.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

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In the winter of 2011, Daniel mentioned a fourteen-year-old student of his who had spent a whole month eating only foods gathered from the wild. “Could we go for two days on the hand-harvested food we have here?’ he asked. “Let’s give it a try!” I responded with my usual enthusiasm. We assembled the ingredients on the table. Everything on that table had passed through our hands. We knew all the costs and calories associated with it. No hidden injustice, no questionable pesticides. We felt joy at living in such an edible world.

Parasitic Experiences

Parasitic Experiences

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It all started with a sign. “We Have Worms.” It’s not complicated to make — I tore the cardboard box, handed it to Andy, and he wrote on it with a black magic marker and hung it in the store window. Everyone knows what it means, it means that if you’re not gonna go diggin’ for the earthworms yourself, you come in and and buy bait from him. It’s a seasonal sign; we scrap it every Autumn. No biggie.

The Real Work Karbaumer Farm

The Real Work Karbaumer Farm

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A bold and opinionated German, Klaus moved to the midwest over 25 years ago from Bavaria and is currently running the only tractor-less farm in Platte County, Missouri operated by draft horses. Karbaumer Farm tries to “live and grow in harmony with Nature and her seasons” and produces over 50 varieties of chemical-free, organic vegetables for the community, providing a CSA or the greater Kansas City area.

The Farmer and the Horse

The Farmer & The Horse

In New Jersey — land of The Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and the Turnpike — farmland is more expensive than anywhere else. It’s not an easy place to try to start a career as a farmer. But for a new generation of farmers inspired by sustainability, everything seems possible. Even a farm powered by draft horses.

The Way To The Farm

Lise Hubbe stops mid-furrow at plowing demonstration for Evergreen State College students. She explains that the plow was going too deep…

A Bad Day in Harmony

A Bad Day in Harmony

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Gary, hoping that that was the lot, revved up the big yellow machine in eager anticipation but once again I called a halt and disappeared in the direction of the house. When I reappeared at the graveside holding a dead cat by the tail Gary shut the machine down completely, remained totally silent for what seemed like a long time, and then leaned out of the cab and with a look of mock concern on his face said in his dry manner, “Where did you say the wife and kids are?”

A Small Good Thing

A Small Good Thing

We shared this video a while back, and now it has been released on Netflix. Check it out! — “A Small Good Thing” explores how the American Dream has reached its end and how for most of us, greater material wealth and upward mobility are no longer possible. To find out what is taking its place, this feature documentary follows six people in one community who have recast their lives so they can live with a sense of meaning.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The Craft of the Wheelwright

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In these days of standardization and the extensive use of metal wheels you might think there is little call for the centuries old craft of wheelwrighting, but the many demands on the skills of Gus Kitson in Suffolk, England, show this to be very far from the truth. Despite many years experience of renovating all types of wagons and wheels even Gus can still be surprised by the types of items for which new or restored wooden wheels are required.

Feeding Elk Winter Work for the Belgians

Feeding Elk: Winter Work for the Belgians

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Doug Strike of rural Sublette County is spending his second winter feeding wild elk in nearby Bondurant, Wyoming. Strike is supplementing his logging income as well as helping his team of Belgian draft horses to keep in shape for the coming season. From May to the end of November he uses his horses to skid logs out of the mountains of western Wyoming. I found the use of Doug’s beautiful Belgian team an exciting example of appropriate technology.

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

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One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

Cuban Agriculture

Cuban Agriculture

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In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT