My Short, Successful Stint As A Livestock Surgical Assistant


I’m here in Cooperstown on a chilly winter day for a future Agweek cover package. Been here many times before, both professionally and personally. I was raised in McVille, N.D., not far to the north.

Four decades ago, when I was a high school student, I came to Cooperstown on a warm summer morning driving a pickup and trailer that held a cow with a bad eye. My father, an excellent rancher, had spotted the problem.

I reached the Cooperstown Veterinary Clinic (which is still going strong); one of its employees helped me get the cow inside. The vet on duty examined the cow and said my father had done well to notice the problem relatively early. But even though the cow was going to be OK, the eye was cancerous and needed to come out, the vet said.

Efficiently and humanely, the vet prepared the cow for the procedure. Then he said I would need to help: hold the cow’s eyelids apart with a large tweezers while he removed the eye. I swallowed hard and nodded.

I’m no medical expert, to say the least. Even so, it was obvious the vet knew exactly what he was doing — and was determined to remove the eye safely and with minimal pain to the cow. I can’t emphasize that enough.

But there was blood. I swallowed really hard, held the tweezers and did my best not to throw up. (I didn’t.) Several veteran ranchers, who were in the clinic that day, were curious and walked over. When that saw what was happening, they walked away quickly. I had a job to do, however, so I stood there and held the tweezers.

When the eye was out, the vet looked at me, noticed my expression and said, “Maybe I should have warned you about the blood.”

The he did some work on the eye socket, including applying bandages. When he was done, he said something along the lines of, “Keep her in the barn a few days and watch her carefully. But she should be OK.”

We did, and she was. She had a long, healthy life, and had many healthy calves. Sometimes I saw her walking through the wooded, hilly pastures, a one-eyed cow getting around as easily as those with two.

One final thought: On rare occasion I hear or read someone — who doesn’t know me or Agweek — complain that journalists understand nothing about ag and don’t care about farmers and ranchers. When that happens, I think back to my short, successful stint as a livestock surgical assistant. And, yes, I grind my teeth a little.