Amateur Vets

At one time, the sign that welcomed people to my hometown of Snyder, Oklahoma included the wording “THE HOME OF THE WORLDS FINEST GRANITE”.

This was the truth.  There was no finer granite than that quarried in the surrounding Wichita Mountains, especially the exclusive Sienna Pink color.  There were four small quarries and polishing plants nearby as well as one large one.  For many years, this industry provided jobs for many of its fifteen hundred townspeople.  However, the primary occupation of the people in the community was that involved in farming and ranching.

This area was called “Short Grass Country” since the long stemmed grass did not readily grow there because of lack of sufficient rainfall.  Some of the inhabitants were truly ranchers but most of them were farmers who also had a few cattle.  This provided income when the dry years resulted in poor crops.

Until a few years after World War II, there were no veterinarians in the immediate area.  Taking care of the cattle’s health was strictly up to the wits of the owners.  These amateur vets could always depend on friends or neighbors to help them with the routine care of the cattle as well as the occasional emergency.

After the farmer – ranchers had gotten in their crops, repaired fences, fed, watered and inventoried their herds, there could be leisure time for them.  Many of them could be found in the local pool hall and domino parlors relaxing and having fun.  My dad, Floyd, spent a lot of time in these establishments, especially the domino parlor in the back of the city hall where they played for no charge.  There was always a lot of kidding and cajoling among these “good ole boys”.  Here, Floyd could always find a buddy to help him with his veterinarian task if help was needed. Likewise, he was there for the others when they needed help.  When I was around, I often got involved with his ranching duties.

Rounding up the cattle and herding them into the corral was not always easy.  Matching wits with a wild cow could be maddening if she had her own idea as to where she wanted to go.  After some time of dealing with such an animal, Floyd’s face would turn red and he would chomp and chew on his tongue.  This tongue chewing was a habit Floyd had when he was really perturbed.  It must have replaced swearing since I never heard him utter a curse word.

Once the cattle were penned into the corral, Floyd and his buddy of the day would perform such tasks as dehorning, branding, castrating, vaccinations, calf pulling and anything necessary for the health and survival of the animals.

Often the calf pulling could take considerable time and be somewhat dramatic.  In reality, this was when the cowboy would act as a mid-wife.  What went on during this procedure was never discussed in front of the women folk.

The cows involved were heifers.  Heifers are young cows which have not yet given birth to a calf.  They would roam freely with the herd.  If there were any laws protecting the under aged cows from sexual abuse, the bull did not recognize such a law and would have his way with them.  Often this led to the rancher’s needing to help deliver the calf from the underdeveloped body.

The only equipment Floyd had to use in such a situation was a couple of ropes.  He would tie a rope around the calf’s front feet, which would be peeping from the birth canal.  Then he would pull as hard as he could and this would usually result in he birth of a healthy calf.  Sometimes a buddy would help pull.

There were times when these tactics did not obtain the desired results.  The next procedure he used sounds rather cruel and gory but it was necessary to save the life of one or both of the animals.  One rope was tied around the neck of the heifer and the other end of the rope was tied to a tree or post.  The other rope was tied around the protruding front feet of the calf with the other end of this rope tied to the back bumper of the pick up truck.  The pick up was put into motion and gently pulled forward.  Hopefully this action would result in a healthy calf and mother.

My father Floyd Pershall and his twin calves that he loved so   much

My father Floyd Pershall and twin calves that he delivered and loved so much

Floyd never told the family the details of his mid-wife experiences however I occasionally served as his buddy helper so I knew what went on.  He did tell almost everybody about one very unusual experience.

This particular time, he was playing dominoes in the city hall when he remembered that he had a heifer penned at the farm since her time was due.  He asked his buddy, Paul Bennett, to go with him to check on the prospective mother.

When they arrived, it was evident that the time for delivery had arrived since the calf’s feet were protruding from the birth canal.  Further inspection revealed that the protruding feet were the rear ones instead of the front ones.  This would be a breech birth.  Dr. Floyd and Paul would have to go in and turn the calf around.  The expression on Paul’s face must have shown that he wished that he had never left the domino parlor.  At this point of the story, I always think of Prissy in “Gone With The Wind”, when she cried “Oh Miz Scarlet, I don’t know anything about birthing babies”,

Floyd immediately went into action.  Soon his hands and arms up to his shoulders were working and straining in the attempt to get the get the calf into the right position.  After twenty minutes or so, of tireless maneuvering, Floyd asked Paul to take over since he was exhausted.

Paul took over and Floyd attempted to clean his hands and arms.  Weeds were the only thing he could find to use for cleaning. He was about through with the cleaning process when he heard Paul groan “Floyd, I can’t find that darn calf”.  Floyd looked up and yelled “No wonder Paul, you’ve got your hands in the wrong hole.

Both of them burst into roaring laughter but continued to struggle and eventually got the poor calf into the normal position and the birthing was accomplished.  Miraculously, both the mother and calf survived.

When the amateur vets arrived back at the domino parlor, Paul climbed into his pick-up and took off for home.  Of course, Floyd rushed into the parlor to report on Paul’s mistake.  I understand that Paul didn’t return to his buddies for some time.


Jim Pershall

April 2011