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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: Farming Systems & Approaches

Cane Grinding

Cane Grinding: An Age-Old Georgia Tradition

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Most sugar cane is processed in refineries to give us molasses, brown sugar, and various kinds of white sugar. However, some South Georgia farms that raise sugar cane still process it the old way to produce the special tasting sweetener for their own food. One such farm is the Rocking R Ranch in Kibbee, Georgia. It is owned by Charles and Patricia Roberts and their sons. The process they use has not changed in the past 100 years. This is how it is done.

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

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Let’s assume the beginning ‘farmer’ has absolutely nothing. Nothing but a will to farm and a reasonably normal body. The very first thing you must do is search out a farmer, preferably a farmer who farms close to the way that you want to farm. You must watch him, ask questions, do as you are told and learn everything you can. Very shortly you will be on your own and you will find that the more you learn now, the better you will be when you have only yourself to rely on.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 1

Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Forestry

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After 70 plus years of industrial logging, the world’s forests are as degraded and diminished as its farmlands, or by some estimates even more so. And this is a big problem for all of us, because the forests of the world do much more than supply lumber, Brazil nuts, and maple syrup. Farmlands produce food, a basic need to be sure, but forests are responsible for protecting and purifying the air, water and soil which are even more basic.

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

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The agricultural system of the Old Believers has long been one of hand labor. Their homesteads (hozyastvas) were not intended for tractors or horses, with the possible exception of their larger potato fields. Traditionally the small peasant hozyastva has its roots in hand labor, and this has helped maintain the health of the land. Understanding the natural systems is easier when one’s hands are in the soil every day as opposed to seeing the land from the seat of a tractor.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 5

You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 3

Working with horses can and should be safe and fun and profitable. The road to getting there need not be so fraught with danger and catastrophe as ours has been. I hope the telling of our story, in both its disasters and successes will not dissuade but rather inspire would-be teamsters to join the horse-powered ranks and avoid the pitfalls of the un-mentored greenhorn.

No Starving Children!

You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big…

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.

Farm To School Programs Take Root

All aim to re-connect school kids with healthy local food.

Personal Food Production

Personal Food Production

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We can argue about when, but someday within several decades, oil and the plentiful super-market food we take for granted will be in short supply and/or very expensive. We must all start immediately to grow as much of our own food as possible. This is the fun part and is the subject of a vast popular movement highlighted by innumerable books, magazines, and web sites. Square-foot gardening, raised beds, and permaculture are the new rage. We don’t need thirty-million acres of lawns. Flowers aren’t very filling either.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Amidst all of the possibility that is out there, all of the options and uncertainties, it helps to remember that there is also a strong community in the draft-farming world. There are a great many like-minded yet still diverse people working with draft horses and ready to share their experiences. What will serve us well within this great variety of farms and farmers is to keep in touch, to learn from one another’s good ideas and mistakes and to keep on farming with draft power.

The Shallow Insistence

…a life of melody, poetry and farming?

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

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Before starting to plow a field much time can be saved if the field is first staked out in uniform width lands. Methods that leave dead furrows running down the slope should be avoided, as water may collect in them and cause serious erosion. The method of starting at the sides and plowing around and around to finish in the center of the field will, if practiced year after year, create low areas at the dead furrows.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.

Organic To Be or Not To Be

Organic: To Be or Not To Be

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How do our customers know that we’re accurately representing our products? That’s the key, the reason that a third party verification system was created, right? I think this is the beauty of a smaller-scale, community-based direct market food system. During parts of the year, my customers drive past my sheep on their way to the farmers’ market. At all times of the year, we welcome visitors to our farm. In other words, our production practices are entirely open for our customers to see.

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

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