Tag Archives: cows

A Visit With Some Hogs

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Oak trees met overhead making sunlight flicker on our truck as Charles drove us toward Metcalf, Georgia. A small voice behind me asked, “When will we be there, Grandaddy?” Kaison (4) and I were having a field trip with Grandaddy. He was going to the Stringers’ Farm to test some hogs and then to the sale barn in Thomasville to cast his eye on a hundred or so cows.

I couldn’t help remembering some of the early hog days when things were quite different.

The first time I saw my husband groveling in the mud at the back end of a 500 pound sow I thought, is this his reward for all those nights nailed to the chair in the pantry off our tiny kitchen in Athens? Is this what he prepared for when he was taking all those ologies (Histology, Microbiology, Hematology) and spending forever hours in labs? But even that day as we rode home with the smell of hogs thick in his first practice car, I could tell Charles was happy in an indescribable way. Yes, he’d be quick to clean up when he got home. He wasn’t really fond of the mud or the squeals. But he loved relieving pain and making things better for patient and client. That day he’d delivered one little pig that was holding up the traffic so ten more could not make it out the tunnel to life.

He got hog calls day and night (of course, lots of other kinds of calls too!). He tested hogs for brucellosis and pseudo-rabies (keeping hogs and humans healthy), delivered pigs, came home with mud in his hair, climbed over all kinds of fences, kept a hammer with him for repairing gates, and always kept up a running conversation with the client and a whole peanut gallery of onlookers–that is, if the squeals weren’t at top level. He became convinced that at the full of the moon pigs squealed louder and longer.

On any given Saturday he might be found at Cairo Animal Hospital “cutting” pigs or giving shots in the back of Cleveland Copeland’s trailer. Or while we were lunching at home there might be a rattle and a squeal announcing the arrival of a hog owner seeking help. He also worked the huge farrowing houses where he’d work all day or maybe two or three days a season.

But then hog prices plummeted and finally they all but left Grady County. Now his hog calls are few and far between. But he does still receive them. Sometimes he chuckles when he says he’s going to “do” hogs because it may only be six instead of 306.

That was the case this day when Kaison and I rode with him. Kaison had mainly seen hogs in a book and I wanted him to meet one face to face.

A big old Hampshire boar hog came snorting up to the fence and Kaison, our very trusting one, started to reach out and pet him. I stopped that, explaining that one doesn’t pet big fat hogs. “Why?” “Well, because–he might take a bite of your shirt, Kaison.” Kaison looked at his shirt and seemed to be thinking he could let the hog have a bite of his shirt. Just then the sow Charles and Mr. Stringer were taking blood from and clamping an ear tag on let out a scream that would quite easily have reached Shanghai. Kaison clapped hands over his ears and gave up trying to pet the hog.

Kaison wondered about the big holes in the lot where Mr. Hog lived. When I told him the hog had dug those holes of course the next question was why. He wondered why Lady Hog was hollering so loud. He wondered why the hogs were different from each other. He wondered why Grandaddy had to take the sows’ blood. He wondered why the hogs didn’t want their shots. He wondered why the hogs were running away so fast when they were set free.

A wonderful child full of wonder! I tried to answer all his questions. I hope he’ll remember the day he visited the hogs with Grandaddy and Nana. And his visit to the sale barn too where he and Grandaddy walked together on the long boardwalks overseeing the backs of so many cows, black ones, black and white ones, brown ones, cows with long horns, cows with no horns, lots and lots of cows. He may remember the most eating applesauce (his choice!) at Chick Fil A and playing in their playground.

 

 

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Another Riding Shotgun Note

Changes in farm operations and, therefore, a veterinarian’s responsibility, have been huge in the last fifty years. Not only have the big operations made the little farms turn to planted pines, but the little ones who do appear are often run as hobby farms by either men or women. Some of those changes are reflected in my note from the 1980’s:

Probably the woman who worried the most about her cows during calving season (rest of the year, too, for that matter) was Sarah Williams. Sarah and her husband were from Florida and most of the time he was still in that sunny state while she was in Georgia coaxing calves to eat. The couple were in the process of retiring and starting a cattle ranch in Grady County.

Sarah was small with tiny hands. Her face was round, framed by dark curls and she was eternally cheerful, yet anxious and dubious. She had no long years of training in animal husbandry, just a desire to “learn the ropes.” She had a sweet whiny voice and, though she apologized for it, she called any time of day or night to ask Charles’ advice or ask him to come. It wasn’t unusual during calving season for her to call two or three times in the middle of the same night and wee hours of morning. She might call eight or ten times, in fact, about the same cow before the poor girl finally delivered. Sometimes Charles would strip to the waist in a cold biting wind in the dark of the night only to find the cow far from ready to deliver. Just as he got warm again and fell into a deep sleep the phone would ring again and Sarah would be sure that this time the cow was really ready.

Charles was extremely patient, I thought. He would shrug his shoulders after hanging up the phone and say, “Sarah again. She thinks maybe the cow’s ready. I’ll have to go.”

Charles explained Sarah’s anxiety by retelling one of his favorite stories. He arrived on the scene one night to find Sarah at the back end of a cow giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to an unborn calf. She was covered in mud and blood and her eyes were wide with fear. He’d explained to her that the calf wasn’t designed to start breathing until it was out of the womb. “You mean I did this for nothing?” she asked. “Pretty much,” he told her. To me he said, “Anybody that dedicated, you have to admire.”

Once, after a particularly trying week when Charles had been to Sarah’s farm after hours a dozen or so times, I heard a knock at our front door. Leaving luncheon preparations, I found Sarah on the front porch, an anxious smile dimpling her face. “I’ve brought you a peace offering for keeping your husband out so much lately,” she said as she handed me three pints of mayhaw jelly. It was really good jelly and I forced myself to remember her kindness, her naivete, her eagerness when next she woke us at 1:00 a.m. to say “I’ve been down to the barn and that cow I called about earlier is standing. Shouldn’t she be lying down?”

P.S. I don’t think Sarah’s husband had his heart in building a ranch operation in Georgia. They moved back to Florida!

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A Riding Shotgun Note

When I started this blog a couple months ago, I told you, my readers, I would include some stories about my veterinarian husband along the way. I haven’t yet done that. Thinking that I probably should start out with something pretty mild, I chose a short snippet from an old journal. This was written back in the days when our own children were about grown and no grandchildren had come along yet–when I could ride shotgun with my veterinarian and enjoy some of the interesting scenes he encountered every day.

June, 1992–Last night we’d planned to go to a play in Thomasville, but it didn’t work out that way. Charles called at 5:15, said he needed me to go to Emory Stone’s with him. I knew then we wouldn’t be able to get ready in time for the play. I knew it even more surely when he called back and said he had to deliver a calf in north end of the county before going to Mr. Stone’s. Later, as we ate sandwiches on our way to Emory’s he filled me in on what had happened with the cow.

He had to tranquilize the cow in sudan grass as high as his own head, wait for her to “go down,” find her in the tall grass, figure out how to tie her up, cut one leg off the dead calf, and reposition it, then push, strain and jack it out. All this with only the one man there to help him. I understood why the smells emanating from his coveralls demanded open windows even on a sultry, hot night.

Driving into Emory Stone’s is always a pleasure. A good hard road ambles through woods and meadows, then suddenly turns steeply down into even darker woods. It’s a little bit like north Georgia to me, the curves and the dips. As we meandered up and down and around the lily-studded pond we looked for a deer to be grazing in one of the little open patches or under the protection of willows and scrub oak. We never saw one when I was along, not a deer or an alligator, nor a coyote, though all were seen by Emory and sometimes by Charles at other times. Once, Charles told me, a coyote had gotten caught in the fence and was found by Emory’s son well after it had died. Poor thing!

On the far side of the pond and up a hill where wild magnolia bloomed we came upon a herd of Hereford cattle watching us curiously. True to his word, Emory had left the calf requiring attention in a corral at the foot of a grassy knoll. It took only a few minutes for Charles to maneuver the calf into Emory’s cattle chute. I was the “tail breaker,” meaning I held the tail straight over the 500-pound calf’s back while Charles examined, performed surgery, and sprayed the affected part to repel flies and gnats. The calf only complained mildly once or twice.

It was almost dark as we back-tracked across the dam and past perfect spots for deer to graze, although they weren’t. Pink drifts of sunset clouds were reflected in the water. Going through the low area with woods on either side we plunged into night darkness, then as we came out in the broad meadow again, it was light enough to see grasses blowing in an evening breeze, to see the waning sunset pink wash the sides of pine trunks in the distance.

Katydids in the trees, and crickets in the grass sounded off in waves rising and falling. I thought about the play we’d missed. It couldn’t have been as good as all this.

 

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