A Water-Bellied Calf
I now own a surgically-gender-changed calf.
I brought the cattle into the corral the other day and noticed a steer calf with a big, pear-shaped belly. His belly sloshed as he walked, like a partially-filled water balloon on a hot day.
Calves often have distinctive features, but they should not have water balloon bellies.
I called Dr. Dick.
I count on Dr. Dick to diagnose over the phone and assess economic risk, all on a plate of compassion for the animal.
“We’ll heifer him,” said my no-nonsense veterinarian.
Invasive surgery on a calf is not a common mode of action for me. Instead, I try to prevent health issues with clean pastures and good nutrition.
“How much will this cost me?” I asked, already knowing Dr. Dick would offer the least-cost, most-effective solution so I really had no choice.
“Oh, I don’t know. A hundred or 150 bucks. But you better get him in here soon. He’ll die if you don’t get that piss out of him,” he replied.
Dr. Dick does not hem-haw.
Okay, I would wager a crisp Benjamin on this calf’s life. If he lived, he would never be A Land of Grass beef, but I could sell him at the auction and he would end up in a fast food burger.
I met my 12-year-old daughter, Abby, at the bus stop after school with directions to grab a snack and change into ranch clothes.
We were racing against the sun, a short race in December.
Abby guided the trailer back to the chute and we cut out the calf from the rest of the cattle in the corral. He spied his escape route and dashed up into the horse trailer as I clambered behind him, closing gates as fast as I could.
As we drove east to town, the sun was setting to the west.
I switched the lights on. No trailer lights. Cows had chewed on the plug between the truck and trailer. I could rewire it, but not before dark.
“I sure hope the highway patrol is looking for interstate racers from Alberta right now,” I said to Abby.
Mary Jane, Dr. Dick’s wife and the glue that holds the vet clinic together, met us at the clinic corral.
“We’ll do surgery on him first thing in the morning,” she said as the calf dashed out of the trailer on a dead run.
He didn’t act sick, but that water belly had filled a little tighter. His short ears and tail belied his tough start during last spring’s endless cold spell.
“Did his penis freeze, too?” I wondered.
“No, this surgery is pretty common. Their urethra has an s-curve in it so lots of times a stone gets lodged in there,” Mary Jane removed my lingering guilt. “We’ll reroute that urethra so it goes straight out the back.”
The next morning, I had a message from Dr. Dick.
“Be careful loading that calf if I’m not around. He’s still a little salty,” Dr. Dick advised.
I didn’t pay much attention to Dick’s warning. After all, I have never seen a post-surgical patient move quickly or very far.
That calf moved quickly alright, and far enough to lift me up the fence. Pushed me up three rails with those frozen ears behind his flashing black forehead.
“Don’t get in his way!” I hollered over to Abby as the calf zipped past her and into the horse trailer.
“I think he needs a friend,” I noted.
Mary Jane and I agreed that loneliness can create crazy.
The sun was setting as Abby and I picked our way through the back streets, hoping other drivers would avoid the trailer with no lights. We put the calf in the corral with Maija, the milk cow, hoping she might have a positive influence on his behavior.
He dashed to the far end of the corral, spun around, his empty water balloon belly waving with each step, and glared at me.
I really can’t blame him, but I hope he feels some relief soon -- hopefully, before I have a good reason to get near him again.