This goes back “a few” years . . . prior to applying to veterinary school, I realized that actual veterinary experience would probably improve my resume; so I began work for “Doc” Kincaid and David Felton, at their veterinary practice in Columbia, Missouri. This was a “mixed animal” practice, moving toward more small animal work as demographics evolved in the Midwest. I had no farm animal experience, but was keen to learn—my job was mostly assisting the two vets on their farm calls.
As you might imagine, this “on the job training” involved a pretty steep learning curve. For example, my first week on the job, Doc asked me to go out and check on a sow in the barn. She was very sick and had been brought back from a farm call the night before to “hospitalize” and treat in the clinic barn.
Actually, he told me just to see if the pig was alive or not; was expecting “not”. I headed out with limited expectations—saw a huge sow sprawled out in the middle of the pen, covered with flies, not apparently breathing—and returned with a “she’s dead” verdict. Doc called and informed the farmer, and we headed out on our day’s farm calls.
We returned that evening, and headed to the barn to take care of the body before calling it a day. “Lazarus” the sow was bouncing around her stall; not very happy that someone had neglected to feed her! Once Doc quit laughing he said, “Steve, there are lots of things I can teach you about being a veterinarian, but there are some basic skills you should come with . . . like being able to tell the difference between a dead pig and one that is alive!” There may have been a few additional references made to my “qualifications” over the course of that initial summer. I don’t recall exactly how he phrased his subsequent phone call to the farmer.
The second story involves no live animals, just a fire pit between the clinic and barn. Remember, this was rural Missouri in the 1970’s; garbage pickup services weren’t readily available. So, we had a circular garbage “pit”–probably 20 feet in diameter, metal siding of some sort for the walls, about 3 feet high—which got filled with anything combustible, and burned as needed. Included in the pyre this day were the remains of two pigs, hospitalized earlier in the week, who had not been as fortunate as Lazarus.
I doused one corner of the pile heavily with a gasoline can, realized I had forgotten the matches, so headed back inside to get them. Came back to the fire pit a few minutes later—not aware of the volatility properties of gasoline—and tossed a lit match into the (now) 20-foot pit of combustible gas enclosed in a 3-foot high ring. The ensuing “explosion” knocked me down, resounded with a “WHUMPPP” of pressure and noise, and sent the contents of the pit 20-30 feet up and out from the center. I sat there on the ground while it literally “rained” pig parts and other burning debris.
Pig story #3 includes some actual veterinary work . . . Doc and I headed out on a routine farm call; we were going to castrate a bunch of pigs on a farm we often visited south of town. As we pulled into the driveway, we stopped to give “distemper” vaccines to the 3 family dogs, and then proceeded to the barn.
There were about 40 young pigs out in a field by the barn; part of our job was to help herd them into the area where we would be working. They weighed between 60-90# (bigger than we preferred for the upcoming procedure) and seemed to enjoy the “herding game”; we eventually got them into a pen in the barn.
Then, came the work. My job was to grab a pig; if it was female, we tossed it over the fence. If male, I had to hoist it vertically by the back legs, belly facing out, and immobilize him between my knees while Doc did the quick surgical procedure with his scalpel. Needless to say, there was “protesting” involved—kicking back legs, jerking torso, nipping at my calves and ankles (Doc kept saying “pigs don’t bite!”)–can’t blame them. Once neutered, I lifted the pig over the fence and went after the next.
About halfway through the bunch, a gate got knocked down and the remaining boys burst free and headed out with their buddies. They were reluctant to get herded back into the pen—pigs are smart—and we spent some time slipping and sliding through pig manure to get the appropriate ones herded back in. More grabbing, lifting, kicking, jerking and nipping ensued—by the last 5-6 males, my arms were done; I had to have Doc help me get them over the fence. Doc chatted with the farmer, gave him the bill, and we headed off in the truck; exhausted and covered in pig manure.
Once we got out of sight of the house, Doc started chuckling, then laughing so hard he had to pull over to the side of the road. He said, “Steve here’s a lesson for you. How much did we get paid to vaccinate the 3 dogs on the way in?” I said, “$7 for each vaccine, so $21”. Doc continued, “And how much for the 21 pigs we castrated?” My reply, “$1/pig, so $21 again”. “Exactly”, said Doc, “be smart, Steve, become a small animal veterinarian!”