There were two quite distinct camps at vet school. The large animal crew, and the smallies mob. The large animal ones (I used to be one, back in the day) tended to favour redwing boots, wrangler jeans, and large felt hats. The smallies crowd were altogether better dressed (and, dare I say, better behaved as well) – they favoured a more ‘corporate’ look, and tended to be city folk.
The thing is, we all had to do all the training for both sorts of animals – no exceptions, or no graduation. The look on some of the more small animal orientated vets when they first had to preg test a cow was something to see, I can tell you! They looked like they might never want to use that hand for anything ever again.
One day we had a special practical session with cattle…
“Right then,” our lecturer told us, a comfortable highlight in the crowd of brand new overalls. His were well faded, worked in, and he looked at home in them. “Sometimes you might go to a farm, and there be no crush – How will you restrain and treat a cow with a problem if this happens?”
A blank silence greeted him.
“What you can do, as long as you have a race to put the cow in, is to cast them down. It’s quite simple, and can be very effective. You You need about 30 feet of rope. You put it around the cows neck, and cross it over underneath, pass one side under each front leg, go up and cross it over again at the middle of the cow’s back, back down each side, and then bring the ropes out inside and between the cows back legs. All you have to do then is let the cow out, while maintaining firm pressure on the ropes, and the pressure of the rope will make them lie down.” (I have included a picture below…)
Looks of frank disbelief tinged with horror were evident on the faces of the small animal crowd by this point, whilst us more large animal types were smirking and nudging each other.
“Ok then, the cattle are in the yards here, I’ll just divide you into groups and then you can bring them up into the race one by one, and each group can cast their cow.” His eyes twinkled, he was obviously enjoying this whole prac a little more than he should have been.
Each of the three groups went and collected some rope, while others tried to get the cows in. These were only about half grown, but they were old before their time. They had lived all their life on the vet school farm, and were wily, evil little beasts. Anyone who had no experience in moving stock had little chance with them. They all stuck their heads in the corners, rushed about, or stood, immobile, and refused to respond to the poor students. After a while, the more experienced students stopped enjoying their antics, and helped move them up into the race.
I finangled my way into being the third group, and went to sit on the fence, to watch. The first group was made up entirely of small animal types. I suspect they had been clinging together in fear, which meant the lecturer had put them all in one group. There was quite a bit of arguing. It took them a good five minutes to untangle the rope. It had transformed from a neat coil into a hideous snarl within ten seconds of them picking it up. Finally they got it straightened out, and started trying to loop the rope around the cow. The cow was jumping, twitching, generally making it as hard as it could. After two or three tangles, and a lot of strong words, the cow was roped up. the ropes were carefully laid out so the gate could be opened, and the cow set free. Three of them got on each rope, looking hot, sweaty, and very nervous.
The lecturer let him out! Unfortunately, they had left the rope a bit slack, so they were all nearly jerked off their feet, as this hairy beast made his bid for freedom. They were all shouting, trying to pull on the ropes evenly, being dragged down the yard in a cloud of dust as the cow kicked and bucked. Eventually they all managed to bring him to a halt, and faces red, heaving like demons, applied enough pressure so that the cow folded up onto the ground.
“Well done!” the lecturer said. We had been trying not to laugh too much, and I swear he was hiding a smile as well. “You can let him go now.”
They let go of the rope, and the cow shrugged it off in seconds. They were all rubbing their hands, which were red with rope burns, and their bright, shiny overalls were covered in dirt and dust and shit where some had lost their footing, and been dragged by the cow. One or two were limping, but they all looked like they had accomplished something momentous.
The circus continued, and to be honest the large animal crowd all got banged and dusty and sweaty and rope burned as well. It was an awful prac! Utterly useless, I suspect. Certainly not something I ever had to do in practice, but it made for some damn good stories down at the Royal Exchange pub later that afternoon…