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Steer vs. Joe, Who Wins….?

One of the greatest aspects of veterinary school is the plethora of organizations.  There are clubs for students interested in horses, internal medicine, small ruminants (vet speak for sheep and deer), shelter animals, holistic techniques (i.e. chiropractics and acupuncture), and chickens.  Okay, maybe that last one is more of a fun, get together group and less about veterinary medicine.  At Texas A&M, we offer somewhere in the area of 30 veterinary student organizations, and we are adding new ones every year.  Just this year we have added surgery, dentistry, and feline clubs.  Which leads me to ask, why are we just now getting clubs for surgery and cats?  Were cat spays and neuters not important until now?  They obviously were, but I digress.

Additionally, some of the best learning experiences come from extra-curricular (university language for outside the class room) activities.  Since starting school, I have drug tested horses at several top competitions, I have spent time on the backside of Churchill Downs, I have wrestled and medicated an alpaca, and this weekend I took on a 1000 lb steer……..and won (man grunt).

This weekend our bovine practitioners and small ruminant clubs organized their first annual Ruminant Wetlab.  Our equine practitioners club has held a similar but larger wet lab for many years.  At the Equine Wetlab, around 200 students from over 20 vet schools converge on Texas A&M in January to participate in their choice of around 30 hands-on learning labs, everything from arthroscopic surgery to stallion collection.  Whose idea was it to pick the coldest, rainiest month for such an activity, I don't know.  But as they say in Aggieland, if something happens twice it is a tradition, so I don't think Equine Wetlab will be changing dates anytime soon.  Again, I digress.

Where was I?  Right, Ruminant Wetlab.  Okay, back on track.  I have already had 2 mugs of coffee this morning, and I think it is altering my mental capacities.  Ruminant Wetlab was held on Saturday.  The students planning, hosting, and running the event did a phenomenal job.  We had the opportunity to participate in all kinds of labs from camelid (alpaca/llama) handling to dystocia (difficulty giving birth) relieving techniques to pregnancy ultrasounding.  It was awesome!  I personally participated in the breeding soundness exam, dystocia, rumen health, and (da da da DAAAA) knot tying and casting.

What does that mean, you might be asking?  Well, I asked that same question when I was signing up.  I figured if I didn't know then it would be a great opportunity to expand my knowledge.  The knot tying portion was, as it suggests, a 15 minute lecture on different knot tying techniques.  Don't laugh, there are that many ways to secure a rope, and each one has its own purpose.  I learned the square, the granny, the bow line, the surgeons, the clove hitch, and the reefer.  Now I can keep up with my brother at the Naval Academy.  They think they are cool with all their sailing lingo.  Ha, I got you now little brother.

After that, we moved on to casting.  This is where I pitted my strength against a 1000 lbs angus steer.  Casting is a method of laying down an animal, usually cattle and horses, with ropes in such as way that is safe for the animal and the veterinarian.  It is usually used in cattle when the vet needs to work on the cow's hooves or belly, and there isn't a $10,000+ hydraulic chute handy.  The first technique we were taught involved 5 vet students, 5 pieces of rope, and one very patient and kind clinician, Dr. Mays.  At the end, we had this steer on its back, belly up, with all 4 feet secured.  The steer was completely calm and looked somewhat like your favorite dog that wants a belly scratch.

I know you are thinking, "Wait Joe, you said you took on a steer and won, not you and 5 other people."  You are right my friend, and that is where the second casting technique comes into play.  The second technique was called a "running W" method.  I would assume, but don't know, that it hails from King Ranch, home of the running W brand.  The method is simple, take one long piece of rope.  Lay the half way point just in front of the cow's withers (tall part of the shoulders), bring the two ends in between the front feet, cross the ends over the back, and take ends in between the hind feet.  Finally, grasp the ends from a safe distance behind the cow of your choice and pull.  Viola! The cow calmly kneels and goes to the ground.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  I had to try.

So I took my rope and placed it on the first steer, stood behind, and pulled.  Down he went.  He looked like he was just lying down in a lush green pasture, underneath the spring sun.  Man that was cool, but was it a fluke.  Was this cow trained?  I had to test it on a more formidable opponent.  In the next pen stood a big angus steer.  He was several hundred pounds heavier than the steer I just brought down weighing over 1000 lbs.  (By the time this fish story hits next week, I might be saying 2000 lbs.)  He was big, and not as calm as the first steer.  I went over, and with the help of my fellow comrade, Stephen, we placed the rope.  We got behind, and pulled…….and he went down.  Now I will admit that big boy stood there for a minute before going down and I have the rope burns to prove it, but he went down.  Now he also only stayed down as long as he wanted.  When he, the steer, decided he wanted to stand again, there wasn't enough lead in Stephen and I's muscles to keep him down.

It was by far one of the coolest things I have learned since starting school.  It was simple, quick, and most importantly safe for the animal and us, although my hands may think differently.  I have always been told, it is about brains and not brawn.  This was a classic example.  If I can bring down a 1000 lbs. steer, then anyone can.  Just wait until I pull that little rope trick out over Christmas.  Those Navy boys won't know what hit 'em!

Thanks and Gig'em,


(PS:  No vet students were harmed in the writing of this blog.)