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By Staff | May 9, 2013

You see them out and about now and then, and when you do, you know it’s true that doctors still do make house calls.

Or in this case, barn calls.

In farm country, the local veterinarian is well known. His truck is always recognizable – the truck bed lined with countless compartments, filled with all of the things an animal doctor needs to have as he goes about his work.

And there are times when the farmer is relieved to see the dust flying from that truck coming down his road.

He sees his share of mud and manure during muddy calving seasons. He vaccinates, performs all kinds of procedures on the farm, and he has to know when to just get out of the way in the name of livestock safety. And no matter what species of farm animal he’s tending to, I’m certain there are times when he wishes the farmer would have called sooner.

Now and then he’ll be almost up to his shoulder in the back end of a cow, trying to see with his hand what’s going on in there.

He’ll deliver good and bad news about diseases, advise farmers, vaccinate, examine dead animals to get the final analysis and will put a million country miles on his truck.

And just like the farmer for whom he works – and for his own family – there are days when there isn’t enough of him to go around.

There are things that a veterinarian and his family must simply grin and bear in the name of his vocation. A veterinarian we know said that, especially during calving season, he never tries to go to bed before 10:30 p.m., because he knows farmers are out checking their cows, and knows someone might have a calving emergency that will require either his advice or his help.

The S.O.S. calls often do come.

The veterinarian’s family knows that he is not always theirs if someone needs his help. They must get by at home without him from time to time so he can help someone else in their time of need.

He, too, misses his children’s concerts and games now and then because he’s working on a sick animal. It’s an ethical issue for the vet and a cash-flow issue for the farmer. They both have a stake in what’s going on.

He’s one who has assisted in the miracle of life so many times that it becomes second nature. A veterinarian we know invited one of our sons to accompany him on a cesarean section call recently.

When they were finishing up the job and the veterinarian was skillfully sewing the cow’s innards back together layer by layer, he asked our son which of the layers was the most important to get sewed up correctly.

“Probably the muscle layer,” our son answered.

“Nope. The hide. It’s the only layer the people can see,” the veterinarian joked.

You gotta love one with a sense of humor. And the experience he offered our son was one that he – a beginning cattleman himself – will always remember.

And yet, the veterinarian can’t always solve the problems.

One vet we know told us he recently had to put his own dog down, saying it was the second hardest thing he’s ever had to do.

“The first hardest thing was to put the dog down that I grew up with,” he said as he looked away to hide the tears welling in his eyes. It’s still hard, even after all these years.

Veterinarians do understand what the farmer goes through with all animals on his farm that don’t make it, after valiant efforts to save them.

We took our own dog to the vet once to have her put down because it was going to be the most humane for her.

The veterinarian was right there after the farewells and in the midst of all those tears, helping the farmer to teach his growing children that sometimes there is no more than can be done, and that love takes a on different form at that point in the life of a suffering animal.

And so the call goes painfully out to the veterinarian.

At that point, the veterinarian tends to the farmer and his family as much as he does to the animal. It’s a personal trust that can’t be explained, or even replaced.

Veterinarians have a special kind of compassion. Some scenarios have a happy ending, and some don’t.

But it’s in some of those worst case scenarios that the strongest bonds of trust are made between a farmer and his colleague in agriculture, the country veterinarian.

Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at kschwaller@evertek.net.

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